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Confronting the sin of indifference and unbelief Years after leaving his native village, Nelson Mandela returned home for a visit. By now he was a lawyer and lived in Johannesburg. Of that visit he wrote: “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered. The old place went on as before, no difference from when I had grown up there. But I realised that my own outlook and world views had evolved.”
In effect, Mandela was saying that, while it was nice to go back home, he could no longer live there – it had become too small for him. Away from home one can be the person one wants to be.
Jesus went back to Nazareth and to the people among whom he had grown up. He wanted to bring the benefits of his gifts to them too. They were people who knew him best. One would have thought, then, that they would have appreciated him most. However, despondently they had no faith in him.
Sometimes we too have similar experience in the course of our life time and mission. A person is never a hero among his own relations. A genius is not likely to be discovered by his friends. The person near at hand unfortunately suffers because his or her faults and limitations are clearly seen; and the person far away, on the contrary, is held in great esteem because only his or her virtues are visible.
But what happened to Jesus at Nazareth went deeper than this. It wasn’t just a case of lack of appreciation of him, rather of rejection. Why? Because he did not hesitate to confront them with their sin of indifference and unbelief; he angered them when he complimented the Gentiles who had shown more faith in God than the “chosen ones” of Israel. Jesus’ praise for “outsiders” offended the ears of his own people because they were blind-sighted to God’s merciful plan of redemption for all the nations. Jesus suffered the fate of all prophets – rejection by his own people. Prophecy is not about pleasing people. It’s about speaking the truth even when it hurts. Truth can be hurtful sometimes, but when uttered in love and out of compassion; demonstrates deep friendship and amity.
Jesus’ overriding motive was one of love and compassion. Yes, it is very hurtful to be rejected by one’s own people. Yes, Jesus was saddened by what happened to him at Nazareth, but his love for his people and for us overcomes every sense of rejection. He never allowed his hurt to stop him from carrying out his mission; rather he did what he could do for those who believed in him. This is what the spirit of love does, it helps us to battle any form of bitterness or anger caused by rejection or lack of love. As Christians, we are called to learn from Jesus whose love for us conquers sin and death.
Fr Odinaka Nwadike