Homily for Sunday 14B, on Mark 6:1-6
by Dom Benedict Hardy OSB
St. Mark tells us in today’s Gospel that in Nazareth, Jesus “could work no miracle”.
What does that mean? It surely can’t mean there was a real limitation to Jesus’ power? St. Mark records him elsewhere healing lepers, giving sight to the blind, driving out demons, raising the dead. In Mark’s Gospel Jesus rebukes the storm and it ceases; he walks on water; he twice multiplies loaves. He is put to death, and three days later he rises again, as he said he would.
So no: there can be no question of limitation to his power. The mystery here is deeper than that, and more terrible.
It is as when Satan urged Jesus to perform miracles in the desert, for his own benefit, or when the by-standers later called on him to come down from the Cross, to make them believe. He would not comply; he could not: at least, he could not compatibly with fulfilling his mission, with obeying the will of the Father; with accepting fully, out of divine compassion, our condition of human weakness and limitation, in order to redeem it all.
Normally, then, in the Gospels Jesus requires evidence of faith before performing a miracle. He is no magician pulling off clever tricks to overawe people into belief. He will never coerce anyone to follow him. He gives sufficient evidence, by word and deed, so that anyone with an open heart and mind will be able to accept him as Son of God and Saviour of the world. But he will always leave the choice to us: a choice that will involve our whole person, and the whole course of our life. He will not force anyone’s will: and that’s why I said this episode is a mystery, and a terrible one.
The renunciation of works of power by Jesus reflects the same disposition in God. God will never force people to be good, to worship him, to love him. He will not stop us making a mess of our lives, and hurting ourselves and those around us. People sometimes complain about this. They want God to keep intervening to sort out the chaos we create; to take away the consequences of our actions; effectively to reduce us to the status of puppets. But he won’t do that. He ever calls us to himself, but he leaves us free to respond or not. The condition of our share in his divine life is that it be in freedom and love. And if we won’t have that, he allows us to go out on our own into the darkness.
What a dreadful thought it is that with some people, apparently, God can do nothing. Their hearts are hard, their minds closed, their ears shut. It doesn’t matter what evidence is presented to them, they won’t ever believe. If they did, they’d have to change their life, and they don’t want to do that.
Sometimes one feels our whole generation fits this category. A few generations ago, our society was Christian. It was normal to believe, so by and large everyone did. Standards of honesty, of civility, of decency and general good behaviour were high. People expected them, and conformed to them, by and large. Now we are back in a state of barbarism. Each is out to get what he can. No one can trust anyone. The very idea of religion and morality is scoffed at. God is regarded as an irrelevance, or an enemy, and the Churches are empty.
That might make one feel gloomy. Must we then resign ourselves to being like the people of Nazareth? Must Jesus marvel at our refusal to accept him, and find himself unable to work any miracle among us?
I’d like to offer three comments on all that now.
1) First of all, as St. Mark makes clear, it is never as bad as it might seem. Jesus did work miracles of healing in Nazareth by laying his hands on sick people. So in our day: even though we richly deserve it, God never does quite abandon us to our unbelief. Miracles continue on, also in our own day, and plenty of them too. Saints continue to be raised up to bear convincing witness to the truth of the Gospel. The Eucharistic sacrifice, which is a miracle of grace always, continues to be celebrated. There are even major public signs and wonders, such as Our Lady quite frequently works at sites of her apparitions. These things still do not of course coerce belief, but they prove that God is still calling out to us, and will never give up on us.
2) Then secondly. We shouldn’t be too dismayed when the numbers of the faithful appear small; when most people around us hear the Gospel and reject it; when our own efforts at bearing witness seem to meet with insignificant results. It has been like this from the beginning, starting in Jesus’ own ministry, among those who knew him best. It’s sad, for sure, and we should certainly not be complacent about it. But God typically does his work through small, often unimpressive minorities. He likes to bring great things out of very small beginnings. It’s how he works, and it shows that the work is always his not ours.
3) Lastly: we should lose no opportunity to strengthen our own faith; to affirm it, to nourish it. We have also to resist any attitude or word or deed that would imply a lack of attachment and commitment to Jesus. Let us, at least, be the fertile soil in which his seeds might fall, to bear abundant fruit for the Kingdom. Let us strengthen and deepen our faith And as we strengthen and deepen our own faith, so we must bear witness before the unbelieving world, and before those who were brought up in the faith but have since effectively lost it. We must be bold in bearing witness to Jesus, Son of Mary, Son of God, Saviour of the world. He is our Lord, our King, our God. We proclaim that he died for our sins and rose again for our justification. May he be praised and blessed forever. Amen.