“And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and in his own house. And he did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith” (Mt. 13: 54 – 58).
In the past week we learned the Gospel about Jesus being rejected in his native Nazareth. Being rejected can be very painful. It can happen to us when we live our faith. Our friends and loved ones sometimes can’t understand our commitment and devotion to God. Last Saturday’s Gospel spoke of another rejection, now on John the Baptist, resulting to his beheading. John is a classic example of prophets who stood by what they think is right. He didn’t fear Herod, he strove for the truth even to his death and so was “Christ’s martyr before Christ’s passion”. He was also an example of humility, “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Mt. 3: 11).
The death of John must have saddened our Lord so much such that “he withdrew by boat away from there to a deserted place by himself.” (Mt. 14: 13). Jesus is sad and is feeling the pain of another rejection. He knew that people weren’t impressed with John’s ministry such that people thought he must be out of his mind. Of course we know that Jesus himself was also rejected because people misunderstood His great devotion to the Father and the work that the Father has given Him. Why should we be surprised when our friends don’t understand our commitment to God? The Apostle Paul was often misunderstood. He said, “If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God” (2 Cor. 5: 13). It seems then that when others think we have lost our minds because of our love for God, then we are in great company of Jesus and the Saints!
When we decide to love God, others can’t always understand or respect us for it. “The natural man does not accept what is taught by God. For him, that is absurdity. He cannot come to know such teaching because it must be appraised in a spiritual way” (1 Cor. 2: 14). When we have the Spirit of God within us, we’ll be able to glimpse at how to look at things from God’s perspective. In this case more often than not, the way we look at things will become more radically different than others do and in effect, our priorities may become different. Have you done something wonderful for God, and yet experienced indifference from your friends and loved ones? It can turn our happiness into hurt and frustration very quickly. Have you realized that if the news of your involvement in God’s word were in another popular event, say, a victory in a competition, they would be more thrilled? But since it’s something spiritually related, others hold no esteem for such accomplishments. It’s a painful realization indeed.
But then, our decision to serve God should be such that we continue to serve, even if nobody cares. I’m inspired by what St. Paul said in his Epistles “My entire attention is on the finish line as I run toward the prize to which God calls me — life on high in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3: 14). Yes, what is important is that we are devoting energy to please God and not man.
A word of caution: this idea of living our lives pleasing to the Lord shouldn’t get into our heads and egos. It shouldn’t make us more proud and boastful. Instead, it should drive us to be more humble. We shouldn’t look at ourselves as having that extra edge in our spiritual journey. I think that as the more we focus on God, our behaviors and attitudes become more like Him. We become more caring individuals especially to those who have wronged us. Our pilgrimage will not always be a “pleasant ride on a quiet lake.” Sooner or later, we will encounter storms and rough waters. Unpleasant these may be these serve to “wake us up from complacency and drifting into deadly hurricanes.” In calmness, it is easy to believe that our indiscretions are harmless, but watch out for the storm building up on the horizon. When we encounter these trials, we shouldn’t despair as these are all part of the journey.
As people reject us, let us be comforted in the fact that our Lord, who was also rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law; will be with us throughout. We just have to focus and offer ourselves to Him, with our sinfulness, shortcomings and all. Our God is a gracious and loving God who’d be more than willing to nurture and help us grow in Him. Let’s keep going on this faith journey. He promised victory for us in the end, for as long as we embrace our cross and share in the cross of others too. It is a victory that’s surely ours for the taking.