Thomas à Kempis’s Twelfth Chapter of Book One of The Imitation of Christ is given the title, “Of the Utility of Adversity” (1,12). Unsurprisingly for those who have read this work even only to this point, it focuses on humility as a way to grow in holiness, that is, to become closer to God.
Today’s Gospel (Mk 6:1-6) finds Jesus back in His hometown of Nazareth, teaching in its synagogue. The folks who know Him best marvel at the wisdom of His words and the works He has done (apparently news of His healing power and exorcisms got back to them). It is clear that they did not see this coming from this man who had grown up there and lived in their midst for over two decades. He must have been quite unremarkable (read: humble) in His work and His manner in those years before His public ministry.
But why take “offense at him” (also rendered “scandalized” meaning that He was an obstacle to them — I’m reminded of 1 Cor 1:23)? It seems to me that they were envious of Him — they all came from the same place yet Jesus is blessed with wisdom and power and renown. Jesus, in turn, once again shows humility. Per Kempis’s lesson, Jesus accepted this “wrong opinion,” even though He “[did] and intend[ed] well,” with only a brief rebuke of His hearers. Any temptation to vainglory was kept from Jesus by the attitude of the townsfolk.
That Jesus “suffer[ed] contradictions” should be no surprise to anyone familiar with the Bible. It is easy to imagine Jesus’ mother sitting with the crowd in the synagogue, listening in rapt attention to her Son, then being heartbroken at the people’s attitude toward Him. But she would not be surprised. I’m quite confident that she reflected, as she often did (see Lk 2:51), on the words of Simeon at her Son’s presentation in the temple: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted” (Lk 2:34).
So, if Jesus, the Son of God, the Third Person of the Trinity, the sinless One, can accept being contradicted, scorned, and rejected in His desire to usher in the Kingdom of God, should we, with all of our sins and faults, expect any less an attitude toward us when we spread the Word (“where did you get all this?” they will say) and endeavor to live holy lives?
Remember the word I spoke to you, “No slave is greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. (Jn 15:20 — it is worth reading the whole section vv. 18-27)
Let us stay humble and trust in the Master.
Christ in the House of His Parents (1849-50) by John Everett Millais