14th Sunday in Ordinary Times
Ezekiel 2:2-5; 2 Cor.12:7-10; Gospel of Mark 6:1-6
Familiarity – Envy or Intimacy?
Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of the Good Shepherd - Singapore, on 8 July 2018

In today’s Gospel that we just heard proclaimed, Jesus after experiencing the deep faith of Jairus, the high ranking Roman official and the woman who had been suffering from haemorrhage for 12 years, now in contrast, upon returning to His hometown in Nazareth finds their faith to be shallow.  The Nazarenes were not able to see Him as their Messiah because of their familiarity with Him.  When Jesus proclaimed with great wisdom and performed miracles, they were astonished and remarked, “Where did this man get all this?  This is the carpenter’s son, surely, the son of Mary . . . and they would not accept Him.”  Jesus responded, “A prophet is only despised in his own country among his relations and in his own house; and He could work no miracles there.”

My brother and sisters in Christ, in this Gospel event, Jesus experienced that one of the greatest hindrances in the growth of our faith is “familiarity.”  “Familiarity” with someone as with our relationship with Jesus can develop both ways: the relationship become superficial or deep and personal. 

There is a true story, Joe an elderly builder who wanted to retire.  His employer David was very sorry to see Joe go, as he was a very skilful builder; and have been working for him for many years.  So, David asked Joe, “Could you please do me a favour and build me just one more house.  Joe, reluctantly accepted as a personal favour for David.  As this was Joe’s last project, he began to work half-heartedly; he no longer stayed back to work over-time, he did not take the trouble and pride to use the best wood for the doors and furniture, nor even bothered to plan for a swimming pool for the house. 

Finally, when the poorly constructed house was completed, Joe met up with David to hand over the project to him.  To Joe’s surprise, David said to him, “Joe, as I truly appreciate all the many years of your hard and dedicated work, this house that you have just built is actually my gift to you.  Joe was shocked, and felt great shame and regret for what he has done to David, his very sincere employer.  Had he known that this last house was to be built for himself, he would have built the biggest house of the best quality and beauty. 

My sisters and brothers in Christ, in the many years of Joe working for David, he thought he knew David well.  However, his familiarity with David did not grow and deepen.  All the years of working, even though he was a very skilful builder, he was merely relating to David, his employer superficially.  If Joe had been more sincere and personal in his relationship with David, he would have known David’s good and generous intentions, that the last house was in all probability going to be a gift for him, in appreciation for the many years of work. 

Likewise, my brothers and sisters in Christ, in our relationships with people, including our loved ones and with Jesus, if our pre-occupation is “what we can get out of our relationships, our selfish ways, like that of Joe, we will eventually experience regret and shame for ourselves.  And so, if our relationship with Jesus is familiar but superficial, then like His townsfolks, Jesus too would not be able to work the many miracles that He would have liked to work in our lives. 

One of the most common reasons of why our relationships with people and with Jesus does not deepen is because we have the tendency of looking at others narrowly and negatively.  This was precisely what happened to the townsfolks of Jesus.  They could not see that Jesus’ Wisdom and power to perform miracles were signs that He is the Messiah.  Sadly, they ended up doubting and rejecting Him, just because they told themselves they knew Him to be the carpenter and the son of Mary. 

There is a story of a professor who one day entered his class and gave his students a surprise test.  He distributed a piece of paper to each of them facing downwards.  He then asked his students to turn the paper over.  To the students’ surprise, there were no questions . . . just a black dot at the centre of the page.  He then instructed the students, “I want you to describe what you see on the paper.”  After some twenty minutes, the professor collected all the papers, and read out what they had written. 

The professor then remarked, “Every one of you wrote about the black dot and how it is in the middle of the paper . . . some described how large, how dark the dot is, but not a single one of you wrote about white part of the paper.  Likewise, if we reflect on our lives, God has very graciously and lovingly given us abundant blessings and gifts, as in the white paper you each had.  However, we have the tendency to not to look at all these blessings, but instead focus on the black spots of our lives and get upset with them, with others and even with God.

My sisters and brothers, does this story reminds us of the attitudes that we often have?  Do we not complain about the black spots of our health, our financial and family problems, and how we are not satisfied with our bosses at work and the grades our children get in school?  We complain about the MRT breakdowns, the delay in buses and all the imperfections of others and how terrible people are, while at the same time, we very quickly justify our own faults and wrongs when others point them out to us.  In short, Jesus would say to us, we see the “splinter in our neighbours’ eye but fail to see the plank in our own”.  It is with such narrow and negative perceptions of people that the townsfolks also judged and rejected Jesus. 

Sonza Davis a spiritual writer very beautifully shares about her spiritual reflection on life and experiences.  She asks, “Are you “staying on the surface” spiritually, and are unwilling to get below it, and is satisfied with the routine of making do?  Staying with the familiar, the place that affords us the most ease and comfort is spiritually sufficient for some people, but it is not God’s desire for us.  God calls us to draw closer to Him by seeking out a deeper Christian experience than just staying on the surface.”

Sonza Davis adds, “I realized this about my own life. I saw I was complacent in certain areas of my life, and this caused a spiritual dissatisfaction that weighed heavily on my heart. That weight was the conviction and prompting of the Holy Spirit to move out of my complacency.  Complacency is a real serious enemy to the believer because it robs us of our spiritual depth, potential, and our true purpose in life.

The Spirit of God began to give me a desire to go deeper in the areas that lacked depth and to seek more depth in those areas that have already obtained some degree of depth. There is never such a thing as going “too deep” where spiritual things are concerned.  God’s Word assures us that if we draw closer to Him, then He will draw nearer to us (Jas. 4:8).  However, going after the deep things of God will involve sacrifice.  Oftentimes, we have to face personal challenges in order to experience the deeper Christian life.

The delight of the “depth experience” and its reward is a greater intimacy with Jesus. God will reward those who diligently seek Him; and that reward is the deep infusion of His presence, knowledge, and wisdom in our lives (Heb. 11:6). In Luke 5:4, Jesus instructs Peter and his fellow fishermen “to launch into the deep.”  You can’t launch into the deep, if there is an unwillingness to move from the shorelines, nor can you gain and experience the great things of what lies below the shallow waters.  Jesus instructs them to launch out into the deep because the best catch is found in the deep waters. Likewise, we are unable to get all that we need from the spiritual shoreline of our lives.  However, if we are willing to launch out and cast the nets down into the deep waters, there will be a great spiritual haul awaiting us.

If we want to experience that kind of depth we must answer the question, “What must I do in order to experience the deep things of God?” Would you like your life to have more spiritual depth than it does right now?  It’s God’s desire that we all have an intimate experience with Christ that is life changing.  So, as I conclude, let us briefly reflect on four very basic points that will help us deepen our relationship with Jesus beyond the superficial familiarity many of us have with Him at present:

First, a basic but powerful way to move into a deeper and more intimate walk with Jesus is discovering the beauty of “fervent prayer” (Jas. 5:16). When we open up our hearts to God, He offers us more of Himself.  God will reveal His Will for my life and His great love for me.  It’s during these times we reciprocate with our own feelings of joy and contentment with Jesus that we will find.  

Second, Sonza explains that, “A worshipping heart will draw God closer to us and open the door to having a more intimate knowledge of God.  By worshipping Him, we express our love and adoration for Him as a community. On this journey, there must come a moment of sheer realization that God is the greatest love of your life.  Worship has changed my life.”  In other words, my brothers and sisters, we are each called to take every liturgical celebration and our Eucharistic worship more sincerely and personally as a community.

Third, by meditating on God’s Word; the Sacred Scriptures, we become more in touch with the mind and person of God.  Reading, reflecting and praying on the Word of God, especially on the Gospels of Jesus causes our relationship to take on a deeper significance. The Holy Spirit begins revealing the true meaning of the Word to us, and then the Word becomes a beautiful letter written just for us. Yet the only way this can happen is by setting regular time aside to read, reflect on and pray on God’s Word.  Allowing God’s Word to dwell in us changes who we are and causes us to have a deeper, more satisfying relationship with Jesus.

When we commune with the Holy Spirit, we are aligning our desires and actions with the Will of the Father. He is the one who unfolds the mysteries of Sacred Scriptures and reveals the heart of God to us. The Holy Spirit will speak to our hearts and calm every fear we may have.  The Holy Spirit is a Comforter as well as a Teacher.  Communing with the Holy Spirit will also cause us to move deeper into righteousness and holiness.  However, we should also know that it is so easy for us to lose our focus on God, in the busyness of our lives, and fail to let the Holy Spirit to lead and guide our lives.  We need to be alert and sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit – for it is the Holy Spirit who helps us go to the deep waters and the mysteries of God’s Love for us.

And so, unlike the townsfolks of Jesus, if we obey like Peter, and launch into the deep waters with Jesus, then we will truly develop a personal relationship with Him and God His Father in the Spirit.  And, as our Loving Father, He will surely bless us beyond our greatest expectations, and Jesus, as in today’s Gospel, will say to you and to me, “I will then be able to perform many miracles in your lives. . .! 

Adapted from: Re: Just between us – Encouraging and equipping Women for a life of faith, by Sonza Davis

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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