In the beginning

Our distance from Christ is as short as we make it

by Father Mike Stubbs

A team playing in its home stadium enjoys certain advantages. For one thing, it can expect more of its own fans to turn out and cheer the players on.

Also, the layout of the field, the little details that make it unique, should be more familiar to the home team.

Although these advantages do not guarantee victory for the team, they should help.

Similarly, we might expect that when Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth, he would enjoy a certain home-court advantage. And Sunday’s Gospel reading, Mark 6:1-6a, tells us that, at first, that is what happens. The people are impressed with their native son: “Many who heard him were astonished. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands?’”

But that astonishment quickly turns into scorn. Instead of identifying Jesus as the son of Joseph, they call him “the son of Mary.” While we might have no problems with that, this goes against the usual practice of the times and could even imply a claim that Jesus was illegitimate.

The townspeople point out that Jesus is one of them, so, obviously he cannot be anything special. They reject Jesus and refuse to put their faith in him. That is why Jesus describes their attitude with the proverb: “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.”

By rejecting their native son, the townspeople are also rejecting the notion of the incarnation, which teaches that God was willing to become one of us through Jesus Christ. Through him, God was born into the human race, to become familiar and approachable to us, not distant and far removed.

For this to happen, God had to choose a particular moment in history to be born, among a particular people. God chose to be born 2,000 years ago, in Israel, not in Kansas during the 21st century.

Some philosophers of the Enlightenment criticized Christianity for this aspect of the doctrine of the Incarnation, which they called the scandal of particularity. They claimed that it would be unfair of God to favor the people of a particular time and place over the others. It would give them a home-court advantage. They would have easier access to salvation than everyone else.

But Sunday’s Gospel reading shows us that in the game of salvation, there is no home-court advantage. Everyone is on the same playing field, whether we live in the 21st century or at the time of Christ, whether we grew up as kids with Jesus and can speak his language or whether the distance of history and culture makes him a somewhat remote and exotic figure.

There is no scandal of particularity. There is only scandal in rejecting Christ. And that is what the townspeople do in the Gospel reading. The sentence translated as “And they took offense at him” (eskandalizonto) literally means: “They were scandalized by him.” Jesus’ familiarity became a stumbling block for them, because they allowed it to.

Conversely, the distance between us and Christ in history and culture can prove to be a stumbling block for some. But it need not. The choice is up to us.

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Fr. Mike Stubbs

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