Proper 9 (14) B
7th Sunday after Pentecost
By Holly Rockwell
Jesus left that place and went to his hometown . . . he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joseph and Judas and Simon. Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
“Where did this man get all this?”
The townspeople hear and comment on Jesus’ wisdom, note his healing power, and are “astounded.” And still they are blinded by what they think they already know.
Someone in that crowd saw the boy Jesus fall while running through the market, saw him skin his knee and cry. Someone saw him fetching water for Mary or tussling with his brothers. As a carpenter, he had likely labored for some of these people. With others he had shared a meal and laughter.
These shared experiences which might have opened eyes and created intimacy created instead a fog of familiarity. William Berry, S.J. [Paying Attention to God: Discernment in Prayer, Ave Maria Press; 1990], has written about this strange human “reluctance to believe in our deepest desires.” Having felt the power of the Spirit in the presence of Jesus, the townspeople retreated into the “voice of reason,” rejecting God’s invitation to come closer. Even as they were “astounded” by his words, they could not reconcile the scraped-knee boy they “knew” with the man of wisdom and power who spoke in the synagogue. It didn’t make sense, not to the practical mind, so they took offense and rejected Jesus’ truth.
“God dwells in all creatures: in the elements, giving them existence, in the plants giving them growth, in the animals conferring on them sensation, in humans giving them understanding.” Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises.
For hundreds of years, Onondaga Lake near Syracuse in upstate New York, has been considered a sacred site by the Onondaga people. It is traditionally regarded as the place where the Great Peacemaker brought the five tribes together to form the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, possibly the oldest, participatory democracy on Earth. Widely believed to be a model for the American Constitution, the wisdom contained in the principles which undergird the Haudenosaunee Confederacy might be called astounding.
In the 1700’s, European settlers built a salt works to utilize salt brine springs along the southern end of the lake. The profitability of this “natural resource” inspired the construction of the Erie Canal, sometimes referred to locally as “the ditch that salt built.” The City of Syracuse grew, and the clear water and lovely setting of Onondaga Lake became a tourist attraction lined with resorts and amusement parks. Another “natural resource” utilized.
Eventually, as the salt industry declined, other industries were drawn to the area. These companies found Onondaga Lake a convenient and cost effective place to discharge toxic manufacturing waste; Syracuse found Onondaga Lake a convenient and cost effective place to discharge untreated sewage. Onondaga Lake became one of the most polluted lakes in the country.
European settlers who built their lives in the area and “knew” the lake and utilized its bounty failed to see or value this sacred site of wisdom and power. They turned away from what William Berry calls “God’s dream for the universe,” and chose instead the path of profit and commodification.
A certain kind of familiarity, the careless kind that is not open to the presence of God, breeds contempt. We often choose not to recognize the glory of God speaking into our lives. Though the words and wisdom of Jesus astounded his hometown friends and neighbors, they found it easier to continue in the sensible ways they had known than to respond to Jesus’ invitation. It may be that we are more comfortable with a splendid, transcendent– and distant—God than the wild and unpredictable Incarnate Word alive among us.
And yet, as Wendell Berry writes, “The incarnate Word is with us, is still speaking, is present always, yet leaves no sign but everything that is.” Let us pray.
Holly Rockwell is Program Manager/Outreach Coordinator at Mercy Spirituality Center in Rochester, New York. She is an Ignatian prayer guide and spiritual director. She holds a Juris Doctorate from SUNY Buffalo School of Law, and in 2015 was certified as a Master Naturalist by Cornell University’s Conservation Education and Research Program. In the middle of all that, she homeschooled her 3 children which gave her lots of time to roam the fields and forests where she finds God. Holly Rockwell is a member of the Wild Church network.