When the sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue, and 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!” (Mark 6:2)
These words from today’s Gospel might set us off pondering what Jesus may have said, to whom was he speaking, and what sort of message was he preaching; but, one thing is for sure, we don’t need to guess what the response of his hearers was since Saint Mark clearly tells us quite pointedly: contempt. “Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.” (Mark 6:3) Sheer contempt for the very One who reveals Himself as the Messiah for whom they have so longed is not an unusual response. It’s not unlike today either, when sometimes it’s our response, too.
When we look around today we realize that there are still, as Jesus promised, those who hold Him in contempt. Some who respond to His Church in the same way, ‘No one can tell me how to live my life.’ Sometimes that sentiment is directed towards us for simply living a Christian life, a Biblical life, or a moral life. It was Jesus who promised, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me first.” (Mark 15:18) This seems so contrary to our Christian desire that all peoples ‘love one another,’ yet it’s the longstanding tension we’ve come to know…that some will reject Christ and those who choose to follow His Way. This is our Faith, the Great Commission. We sometimes choose to embrace others who hate us so that they might “see [our] good works and give glory to [our] Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16) and so come to believe in Him.
But, why do I mention this today? Well, today we celebrate the founding of our nation with its Declaration of Independence. Our very roots as a nation are steeped in Judeo-Christian values which form the foundation for our life together. Certainly, no family is perfect, no people is perfect, no nation is perfect and yet we are a hopeful people who endeavor to pursue the way of life that leads to true, authentic solidarity of ‘one heart and mind’ so every life is respected. The most well-known words of the Declaration of Independence that have drawn so many people to our shores for almost two and a half centuries are rooted in the fundamental revelation that every life is precious, every life is worth living, and every life is from God Our Father. And what are these words?
Do we believe these words to be true? Do we seek to ensure they are true for every man, woman and child that crosses our path? Do we know how best to ensure we live out these words in our families, our communities, our nation and beyond? Although these words have never quite been perfectly fulfilled, they remain the great commission of every man, woman and child who calls this land home. For persons of faith or no expressed faith, these words will determine the future for our children and our grandchildren and our great grandchildren, home and abroad.
Whatever Jesus said that day in the synagogue, we know for sure that he was laying the groundwork, the foundation, for what we now call the New Commandment: love. It remains today as it was 2,000 years ago the most challenging Commandment to live by because it demands we love, that we begin to see each person as ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ without exception, that we love all people. Today, let us renew our intention to build the faith that will allow many to come to know and worship God, our Father in heaven, the giver of every life.
Fr. Ed was ordained to the priesthood in May 2000 for the Archdiocese of Boston. He held three different parish assignments in the Archdiocese from 2000-2010 before his appointment to the Faculty of Saint John’s Seminary, where he was Dean of Men and Director of Pastoral Formation from 2010-2022. Fr. Ed is currently the Administrator of Sacred Heart Parish in Waltham, MA and Spiritual Director & Liaison for the Office for Homeschooling of the Archdiocese of Boston. He is the Spiritual Director for the World Apostolate of Fatima in the Archdiocese and a perpetually professed member of the Institute of Jesus the Priest of the Pauline Family.