July 8, 2018
Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi
The people of Jesus’ hometown think they know him, because they know a lot about him. They know he is a carpenter. They know his family. They know the house where he grew up.
But they don’t know him. They know things about Him, but they do not know who he is. There is a huge difference between actually knowing someone—their hopes, dreams, their life story—and knowing certain facts about them.
Because they have an image of who Jesus is in their minds, they cannot accept the real person standing before them. Jesus could only do a few healings there, which the local folks would surely point to as proof that this hometown boy is not what he’s cracked up to be. See how easily this judgment of another becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The people of Nazareth have, in their hard-heartedness, rejected Jesus.
They ask questions about Jesus, such as, “Where did he get all this?,” when they should instead be asking soul-searching questions about themselves. Such as: Why am I closed off to him? Why am I slamming the door in his face? Why am I so obstinate of heart?
What happens in Nazareth happens daily, over and over and over again. One person thinks they know who another person is because they know things about that person. Or one group believes they know what another group is like because they know things about that group. In this kind of pre-judging, hearts are hardened, minds are closed, and people rejected.
It happens to us as Catholics in a state where we are very much in the minority and members of other religious denominations think they know us because they’ve heard things about what we “believe”, although most of that information is false. Like, “You Catholics worship statues.” Or, “You don’t know anything about the Bible.” Or, “You Catholics can do whatever you want and then just go ‘confess’ it to a priest.”
But this kind of pre-judging also happens in today’s fear-driven climate about protecting our borders. It happens when people reject immigrants or refugees without ever getting to know them, without every coming to know their stories or why they would risk their lives just to come to our southern border.
It also happens daily in politics, when Republicans reject Democrats and Democrats reject Republicans without folks from either party listening to and coming to know those of the other party. This is the reason our nation is so polarized today.
After all, what does polarization require? Two poles. By that I do not mean two people or groups of people disagree with each other. That is actually what democracy requires. What polarization requires is two people or two groups of people who disagree, each of whom believes that the other is entirely at fault and is politically irredeemable, or even worse, thinking the other person or politically party is morally irredeemable.
Pope Francis sees all of this clearly for what it is. The phenomena involved in polarization reflect a deeper spiritual crisis today, within you and within me. That is why the most important thing Pope Francis has ever said about politics or other things that divide us is: “I am a sinner.”
The 1st question he was asked in his very first interview, was: “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” To which the pope replied: “I am a sinner, constantly in need of God’s mercy.”
I suggest this is where we should start the reform of our politics and of our nation, by recognizing our individual complicity in the sin of polarization, by what we have done and by what we have failed to do, and by asking for the grace to change. Today everyone seems to zoom in and focus only on the “difference” of the other person. We can begin the conversation by focusing on what we share in common, rather than on our differences.
Back in the early 1970’s a potluck dinner group was formed in Ardmore, Oklahoma called “Let’s Talk.” This group was a response to the race-riots of the late 1960’s. This group brought together African-Americans and Anglo-Americans of different religious denominations to share a monthly meal together, to share conversation, and to hear a speaker on an important topic of the day.
My mom and dad were part of this group of black and white people interested in getting to know each other, which meant by default, so were my brothers and sisters and I. I still remember the good food and playing together with other kids, who I had never known before.
My mom had me memorize Dr. Martin Luther Kings’ famous “I Have a Dream” speech for the 4-H speech contest, and then when Gloria, one of the African-American members of the Let’s Talk group found out I knew Dr. King’s speech, she had me give it in front of the group. I still remember as a 10-year giving that speech in front of that group of adults.
More than anything Jesus spoke about was a dream he had, and this Dream was called “The Kingdom of God” where all people could live in peace with each other and rejoice in God’s goodness and love.
Jesus was all about bringing people together, even people very different from each other. Why else would he call Simon the Zealot and Matthew to be his apostles? Simon belonged to a political party which advocated the violent overthrow of the Roman occupiers and Matthew, the tax collector, who collected taxes from his own people for the Romans.
Jesus ate with sinners and gave his life so that we human beings would finally see that there is only one race, and that is the human race, and that there is only one Father of us all.