Was your experience of adolescence something like this? The girls or boys in the town or neighboring high school always seemed better looking than the familiar ones. And if you were to ask the teens in those near-by places their experience, they would have said the boys and girls in your school or town were the better looking.
It's kind of like the maxim in the business world that an "expert" is someone with a briefcase who lives more than 100 miles away. It's the old saying, "The grass is always greener ...." It's a factor in human nature: people are often unable to see the value of the familiar.
In today's Gospel, we find Jesus returning to his hometown, but his family members and local community leaders could not see the value present in this hometown boy. Jesus' relatives and fellow citizens could think of him only as the local carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joseph and Judas and Simon.
This scene led St. Mark to quote another well- remembered saying: "Prophets are not without honor, except in their homeland."
This might call to mind the story about a bishop who was interviewing a senior seminarian, asking where he would like to be assigned as a deacon. The seminarian said, somewhat boldly, "Oh, bishop, anywhere but New Canaan." "Why not there," the bishop asked? "You know," the seminarian answered, "that's my hometown -- and we all know that a prophet cannot be honored in his homeland." The bishop ended the meeting by remarking, "Don't worry my friend, nobody is going to confuse you with a prophet."
It's important to remember what a prophet really is. Not a future teller, but a speaker of the truth and one who calls the people into judgment. And, truth be told, it was not just prophets in their homelands who were without honor. Prophets were not honored in any way or anywhere. They were rejected, despised, stoned and killed -- all because the truth of God is so hard for us to accept. Doing what the prophets of God call us to do is so difficult because it requires sacrifices of self and radical obedience to God that can be costly and unpleasant as well as unpopular.
Today's Gospel story beckons us to listen for the true prophets of God, whether or not they are familiar to us-despite who spoke the word, despite how difficult the message may be for us to take. This is a call for us to be courageous enough and open enough to listen to the prophets among us and to heed the word of God they reveal.
Jesus had little or no concern about whether he would receive any honor or not. He knew that what is important in life is to know that God loves us and to respond in gratitude by doing the work God gives us to do. We must not even consider any honor we might receive as a result of doing so. For honor is only incidental and fleeting.
St. Mark tells us that Jesus could do very little good in his hometown -- could not perform deeds of power. Jesus was amazed by the lack of faith held by those in Nazareth.
These two are clearly connected. Faith is required for what God can do for us. God can and will -- save us.
God can and will provide the live-giving and life-saving values that can lead to meaning and joy and happiness. God can and will connect us with love and grace and forgiveness. However, God's power goes unused if we are not faithful enough to accept what God has to offer.
If we look to the message of God like a prophet too close to home, as too familiar or too costly, we cannot recognize God for whom and what God is. If we fail to honor Jesus as Lord and Savior, we will not connect with God nor take advantage of what God offers us.
The people of Nazareth lost a great opportunity by not listening more carefully to their neighbor and relative-who they knew only as Jesus the carpenter son of Mary. But we know differently. We know him as Jesus the Christ, our Lord and Savior. And we know not to reject the God that might seem too familiar to us. Let us remain fresh and alive in our faith, ever listening to the voices of God's prophets and the Good News of the Jesus so familiar to us.