How Jesus Handled a Put Down

(Homily for Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B)

St. Paul tells us that he knows what it means to suffer and to be humiliated. He had received a "thorn in his flesh." We don't know exactly what it was, perhaps some chronic illness or a temptation that kept tormenting him. Although he begged the Lord to take it away, St. Paul realized that it had a purpose. The Lord allowed Satan to "beat" him so that he would come to depend totally on God's grace. St. Paul saw an advantage in his suffering.

Jesus also suffered and was humiliated. We see an instance in today's Gospel. It was not an attack on his flesh, but something more common - an insult, a put down from his own townsmen. He had already begun his ministry of preaching, healing and casting out demons. He then did something which required some courage. He returned to home base. They knew his mother, his "brothers" and "sisters," that is, his close relatives, probably cousins. When Jesus preached, they first listened with amazement, but then something changed. They started asking, "Isn't he the carpenter?* He doesn't have an title. Who does he think he is?"

And how did Jesus react to this put down? Well, very different than you or me. When someone rejects me, I feel discouraged. Like a turtle, I want to withdraw into my shell. It was not that way with Jesus. He kept his head high. He put the rejection in context. Yes, I am a carpenter, but I am also a prophet. And no prophet is well received in his own country. He did what he could - a few healings, which is something - but then he went on to other towns.

If someone has a mission, he can put up with a lot. I would like to give you an example from one of our immigrant groups - the Italians. Every group of immigrants has their particular genius, their goal. For the Italians, they came to this country with a clear purpose: to earn and save money. They were mainly young men from southern Italy who wanted to save enough money to buy a piece of land and to help their parents. They accepted the hardest jobs and worked long hours. They would typically share a room among four or five guys. For entertainment, they played soccer on Sunday and they went to Mass. The natives, as you might imagine, looked down on them, sometimes with strong insults. But the Italians basically ignored them. They had their goal and were not going to be distracted. A fellow Italian, Amadeo Gianini, recognized the particular character of his countrymen. He opened a bank for them - the Bank of Italy. It spread from San Francisco across the country and became one of the biggest financial institutions in the country. It is now known not as the Bank of Italy, but the Bank of America. It is a testimony to the dreams and hard work of young Italian immigrants.**

When people have a dream, they do not let others discourage them. We also have a goal, not so much to save money - although that is part of it. Our goal is deeper: to form families of faith for the salvation of souls. We have the example of St. Paul, of Jesus - and even those Italian immigrants. That example encourages us to make sacrifices and - if I can say it this way - to put up with put downs. St. Paul says, "I am content with weakness, insults and hardships...for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong."

**********

*The Navarre Bible translates the word "carpenter" as "craftsman." Jesus probably did not build homes. He was a craftsman, a person who works in a shop joining wood together to make stools or tables. Jesus chose to exercise a fairly humble profession. His townsmen used that against him. It would be like someone today giving a talk about maintaining good health. However, instead of responding to what he said, people start saying, "You are no doctor, are you? Aren't you just a mechanic?" That was the tone of the Nazarenes: "Who does Jesus think he is? Some sort of Scripture scholar or rabbi? Is he not the carpenter?"

**For more on Italian and other immigrant groups, I recommend Thomas Sowell's excellent study: Migrations and Cultures.

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From Archives (14th Ordinary Sunday - Year B):

2015: Building on Strength Week 1: Scripture as Word of God
2012: Mary Opens a Window (about "brothers & sisters" of Jesus)
2009: Some Requests
2006: How Jesus Handled a Put Down
2003: Insults and Persecution
2000: Separation of Church & State?
1997: "The Conscience of our State"

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