Two years ago, my oldest daughter and I began a driving trip to Washington, DC in order to attend the March for Life rally. From Michigan, the route is clearly marked: Interstate 75 across the Ohio Turnpike, then onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike. And once on the Pennsylvania, there is an excursion through the beautiful Shenandoah mountain. For the majority of the trip, we encountered perfect driving conditions until we reached the mountains. As we began the climb, down came the snow, ice, sleet, and our speed. But as most of you do not know, no trip with this deacon is complete without getting lost. Having taken a wrong turn, my hunch was that I was a long way from our hotel, which was near the Washington Beltway.
On that cold evening, weary from the long drive, I found myself surrounded by falling snowflakes, in the middle of a most beautiful colonial town, Winchester, Virginia; a town that invokes the Revolutionary period without ever having to speak a word. Ironically, I knew that a young George Washington had spent some time in Winchester, primarily as a surveyor. And, through the years, with the earnings from his surveying business, he was able to buy a number of acres in the area, enabling him to serve as a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. During the French and Indian War, Washington would go on to command the Virginia Regiment from his headquarters in Winchester.
For George Washington, Winchester was not home, but I am certain that during his ascent to higher responsibilities, the town must have always held a special place in his heart. It was the place where he came of age. Washington knew Winchester well. And the people of Winchester, many of whom must have played an important role in his formation as a ‘public’ person, surely held him up as their adopted “hometown boy.”
In the Gospel of Luke (4:21-30), there must have been similar sentiments between Jesus and his “hometown” of Nazareth. He was, of course, a Nazorean. And as He proclaimed the words from the prophet Isaiah, that today, that Scripture passage was fulfilled in their hearing, those present in that Nazareth synagogue all spoke highly of Jesus and were amazed at the gracious words that came from His mouth.
But for many in Jesus’ hometown, mere words were not enough. They wanted more. They wanted the miracles that He had performed at Capernaum. Truly, it must have been difficult for Jesus to stand before His fellow Nazoreans and not give them what they wanted. But, as Lord, Jesus knew each of those present in that synagogue in the most intimate of ways.
The prophet Jeremiah (1:4-5, 17-19) reminds us that:
The word of the Lord came to me, saying: Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I dedicated you- a prophet to the nations I appointed you.
Yes, Jesus knew His people’s hearts. He knew their present disposition. He knew every word they would speak before even one was spoken. But most importantly, Jesus knew what they could become.
And while standing in their midst, as the people demanded miracles, Jesus gave them nothing.
Having recognized their lack of faith, Jesus allowed them to go away empty and unchanged, without true conversion and knowledge of true love.
And as Jesus made rapid exit from his hometown, and as they attempted to throw Him off of a cliff, His own words must have reverberated in His mind:
No prophet is accepted in his own native place.
For most of us, St. Paul’s conversion story is well known. And I suspect that some of us yearn for such a dramatic conversion experience, with the voice of Jesus questioning or instructing us regarding our life’s mission. Or perhaps we hope for a major miracle being performed in our midst, in much the same way those in that Nazareth synagogue did.
And yet, in Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle leads us to understand that lasting faith is gained not by single miracles; but rather, that lasting faith is gained only through the practice of love. And as we open ourselves to Jesus’ love and begin to make our lives a gift to Him and those around us, we begin to attain the greatest spiritual gifts that St. Paul speaks of in his Letter to the Corinthians.
As Jesus taught His apostles the way of love, He also desires to teach us. Being both human and divine, Jesus knows that we humans do not always “switch on a dime,”although sometimes we do, as in the case of Paul. For most of us, an effort is required.
When we are faithful to prayer and a living out of our faith, something happens. God’s grace begins to move us in new ways. We gain the capacity to become more kind and generous, patient and loving. We become more empathetic to the needs of other, and we gain the capacity to move beyond ourselves; beyond who we are today and toward whom God wishes us to be tomorrow.
And so, through the embrace of divine love and the practice of the way of love, we no longer desire the single miracles demanded by that congregation in Nazareth. Rather, day by day, week by week, month by month, and year by year, we marvel as Jesus begins to make us aware of the small miracles of our lives. In doing so, He creates in us a lasting faith, one that can move mountains; indeed, a faith that can sustain us during even the most difficult of times.
As Blessed Teresa of Calcutta once said:
Love has a hem to her garment that reaches the very dust. It sweeps the stains from the streets and the lanes, and because it can, it must.