Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time • Year C

Arthur P. Purcaro, O.S.A.
Villanova University
Villanova, Pennsylvania

Readings
1 Kgs 19:16b, 19-21
Ps 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11
Gal 5:1, 13-18
Lk 9:51-62

INRI.

How many times have we seen those letters hanging over Jesus’ head on the cross? Pilate determined that Jesus be known as JESUS OF NAZARETH, an historical figure, identified by the town in which he was raised. Crucified victims served Rome as gruesome warnings against potential future criminals and enemies, so it was typical to identify the victim’s name and crime on a sign, written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. In this case, “King of the Jews”: a pretender, rabble-rouser, a threat to the status quo.

All four evangelists used that same title, Jesus of Nazareth. Peter used that form of address in the very first post-resurrection proclamation of the Good News, and it continued to be used in the early church. To this day, we proclaim ourselves to be followers of Jesus of Nazareth, we choose him as a model for life and action. Just how well we can follow that example depends on our knowledge of Jesus and his teachings.

But what does Nazareth have to tell us about Jesus? What does Nazareth mean?

Jesus spent a majority of his life there, a typical village dweller, not outstanding in any fashion, subject to his parents, a modest family, who regularly fulfilled their religious obligations. Jesus viewed the world from Nazareth, a provincial town, a farming community, on the outskirts of society. Not a landowner nor a member of the priestly clan, but simple and devout, one more neighbor, another number in the census.

He learned from life, from his simple experience: seeds and weeds, wheat, birds and flowers, fox, hens and chicks, those looking for work, those in debt, the banquets of the rich who exclude the poor, popular wedding feasts, children who play in the town square, women searching for lost coins, stitching patches on old clothes, shepherds and sheep, children who abandon their parents and waste their hard-earned inheritance, the people who knock on the door at night, servants who get drunk while their patron is away…

Some thirty years of experience in that small, insignificant village constitute the essence of his preaching and his spirituality, his prophetic vision, his conflict with religious and civil authorities, his choices, his passion. While the priests, scribes and Pharisees reject Jesus as a false messiah from an insignificant village, the blind man from Jericho recognizes him as Son of David much as the simple folk proclaim him Messiah, mounted on a donkey.

Nazareth is not merely a geographical reality; it is also a theological one, a lifestyle which reveals to us something significant about God. Jesus’ presence there is not perchance but a consequence of God’s decision to become one of us, through Jesus’ self-emptying and humility. The Word became Nazarene flesh: poor and insignificant. The Word spoke with a Nazarene accent. Jesus could have claimed his Davidic ancestry but never did. When the soldiers come looking for him, they seek Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus comes forward to say: I am he.

Nazareth is a theological place, a privileged spot to understand who God is and what the reign of God is about. Nazareth includes the poor, those who are different, forms community. The church, faithful to Jesus, is called to be a Nazarene church, a servant church. A church which identifies with those on the margins, which knows their experience and sees the world from their perspective.

As we have heard in today’s Gospel passage, it is not easy to follow Jesus. There are those who reject Jesus because of his religious beliefs, because of his place of origin. Others find it hard to leave what they are accustomed to in order to truly follow and live as Jesus did: entirely, whole- heartedly, without restraint, a person for others, willing to share all he had and was, so that others might have life, and live it more abundantly.

Our challenge is to make Jesus of Nazareth’s lifestyle our own, to be identified more fully with Jesus and have others know and love him through us. Our commitment is to reach out and willingly assume the cause of the outcasts, the downtrodden, the excluded, and make it our own. Nobody ever said it was going to be easy!

We are joined together in the Eucharist to give thanks to God for sharing Jesus with us, for nourishing our faith, for giving us the courage and support of one another in our commitment to truly be followers of Jesus of Nazareth. Commenting on this same scripture passage sixteen centuries ago, St. Augustine reminded his listeners that: Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord, will enter into the kingdom of heaven. Let us resolutely take the road from Nazareth, willing to be true companions along the way, faithful messengers who assume the cross of our Master.