“Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” The people of Nazareth said about Jesus in today’s gospel. In our gospel today, Jesus returns home to Nazareth after performing miracles and preaching God’s good news elsewhere. But rather than being welcomed by the people who knew him since he was young, the people of Jesus’ hometown refused to take him seriously.
Isn’t this just the son of Joseph? They asked. Isn’t this just the carpenter boy?
The people of Nazareth refused to believe that Jesus had since then grown into someone different, someone with different convictions about God’s good news than they do. Because Jesus didn’t fit in with their image of what Jesus should be like, he was rejected by his home community and driven away.
Now, some suggest that the Gospel of Luke placed this story here to emphasize that Jesus’ salvation is not only for the Jewish people, but also for the gentiles and converts. While Luke may be trying to make this point by highlighting the many ways that Jesus’ own people have rejected him throughout the Lukan gospel, we today can be reminded that we as gentiles and Christians are not more worthy of God’s love than our Jewish siblings. And that interpretations that blame Jewish people for rejecting or killing Jesus easily lead us to the sin of anti-Semitism.
In fact, Jesus’ experience of being rejected in today’s gospel prompts us to ask ourselves: how often do we reject and turn away people in our lives because they no longer fit the image of who we think they are? How often do we also make the mistake of looking at our loved ones, and saying something along the lines of “isn’t this the son of Joseph?” or “why isn’t this person the same as who they had been before?” or “why has this person changed?”
Whether intentionally or not, we may think or say these things when we look at our children who have grown up to have different convictions, and we lament or become angry at them for being different from how we raised them. We may think these things when interact with our elderly family members with dementia, who behave in ways so different than they did before when they were healthy. Or, when our friends come out to us as queer or transgender, we might take a while to accept them for who they are. Sometimes, we might end up rejecting people whom we used to love, simply because they are or act differently today.
We see a similar storyline in our first reading from Jeremiah. The prophet Jeremiah also experiences opposition from his own people, perhaps because they also did not expect him to become a prophet, or perhaps he defied their expectations a little too much. While his people reject him and came after him, God does not leave Jeremiah alone in his rejection, but strengthens him and protects him against his enemies.
Sometimes we might find ourselves in the position of the townspeople of Jesus and Jeremiah. We might find ourselves clinging onto the way things used to be, and the way people used to be. That’s normal, because change is never easy and we might also be scared of how fast things are changing. In these moments, the gospels today remind us it’s not just about our feelings: because it is painful and scary for Jeremiah to experience rejection, as it is painful for Jesus to be forced out of his hometown. That in these moments, God is calling us to welcome our friends and family members for the way they are now different, and listen to what they have to say to us.
Sometimes, we might find ourselves in the position of those who are rejected, of Jesus or Jeremiah in today’s readings. We go home to a place we love, but are rejected by our loved ones for who we are today or the things we do. God reminds us that in these moments of rejection, God is on our side, and is proud that we are who we are now. God is proud of us for speaking truth to power, for proclaiming liberation for the oppressed, and for doing the works of mercy. Even when our loved ones and home communities aren’t ready to embrace our changes, God is.
At the end of our gospel reading, Jesus passed through the midst of the people and went away. In walking away, he began his ministry, found his new family in his disciples and friends: friends who gave him room to proclaim the gospel, friends who do not underestimate him or reject him for who he is. We learn from Jesus’ leaving Nazareth that in situations where we are not accepted at all and are experiencing harm, that it is okay to set boundaries, walk away, and find new communities of belonging.
So while we hear in our second reading today of 1 Corinthians 13, that famous phrase that “love is patient, and love is kind,” we learn from Jeremiah that love is also strong and love protective.
We hear from Paul that “love does not seek its own interests, and love is not quick tempered,” but we also see from today’s gospel, that love is knowing how to care for yourself, and knowing when to walk away from harm.
We hear that “love does not brood over injury,” but we also know that love wants us to seek out joy.
Love “hopes all things and endures all things,” but love also calls us to communities and spaces that celebrate us for who we are.
Love looks different in different situations.
Because love never fails us.
Flora x. Tang
Flora x. Tang
Flora x. Tang is a doctoral student in theology and peace studies at the University of Notre Dame, where she writes and researches about post-traumatic sacramental theology, queer theology, and literature of the Asian diaspora. Flora has previously worked as a hospital chaplain, a campus ministry fellow, and a service-learning program coordinator for college students. Her theology and preaching draw from her complex faith journey to and within Catholicism: from becoming Catholic at age 19 after living and serving with Catholic sisters, to deconstructing her faith while living in Palestine, to discovering her own queer Catholic expressions of faith. Flora is committed to reimagining God’s love while standing on the margins of the Catholic faith.
Flora’s writings appear in the National Catholic Reporter and America Magazine, and her book of poetry is published in Mandarin Chinese. She is originally from Beijing, China, and currently lives in South Bend, Indiana with her occasional foster cats and kittens.