Why They Rejected Christ

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

When Jesus preached at Nazareth near the start of his public ministry, his own hometown neighbors rose up, filled with fury against him. They drove him out of their village intending to toss him head first off a cliff. Later, near the end of Jesus’ public ministry, one his own twelve apostles, after spending years in his close company, chose to betray Jesus to his enemies. And sometimes in our present day, lifelong Christians experience painful events and give up on their commitment to Christ. Why did Jesus’ neighbors in Nazareth reject him? Why did his apostle, Judas Iscariot, betray him? And why do Christians sometimes abandon him in hard times? All of these expected our Lord to do certain things for them but were disappointed. In each case, Jesus failed to do for them what they desired.

Part of the problem at Nazareth was that Jesus was too familiar to them. He grew up there as a little kid playing in their streets, he worked locally as a carpenter’s son, and he quietly attended their small-town synagogue for years. So when they heard him preaching they asked, “Where did this man get all this?” How could this guy be someone foretold of in the Scriptures? As Jesus acknowledges, “No prophet is accepted in his own native place.”

They wanted him to prove he was somebody special by working miracles before them. A sick doctor should be able to apply his talents for his own recovery and prove he is a real doctor; so the Nazoreans would say to Jesus, “Physician, cure yourself! Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.” But God’s prophet does not owe them miracles. Jesus notes that neither Elijah nor Elisha, two of the Old Testament’s greatest prophets, worked miracles for Israel’s individual widows or lepers, respectively. St. Mark’s Gospel reports that Jesus did not perform many mighty deeds in Nazareth, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them. Their lack of faith and lack of openness seems to have limited the gifts of God they could receive. So Jesus failed to match their expectations, and they took great offense at him.

Why did Judas Iscariot betray our Lord for thirty silver pieces? St. John tells us in his gospel that Judas “was a thief and held [Jesus and the apostles’] moneybag and used to steal the contributions.” Those thirty coins represented thirty days’ wages back then, something akin to $3,000 today. Was Judas so greedy for that relatively-modest amount of money that he couldn’t resist? When Judas saw that Jesus had been condemned to death he felt deep regret at what he had done. He tried to return the money to the high priest and elders saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” He wishes to undo his deed, but the Jewish leaders brush him off: “What is that to us? Look to it yourself.” Judas goes away in despair and foolishly kills himself. If Judas did not wish for Jesus to die, then why did he sell him out? It seems that this apostle was disappointed by Jesus’ public ministry.

Most Jews expected the Messiah to come as a warrior-king like David. They imagined the Christ would drive out their pagan overlords, conquer Jerusalem, and lead an earthly kingdom of vast power, prestige, privilege, and wealth. But Jesus was not pursuing that popular dream. He devoted his efforts instead to teaching and healing the lowly and poor. When, after feeding thousands with five loaves and two fish, Jesus perceived “they were going to come and carry him off to make him king,” he firmly sent that crowd away and withdrew up the mountain alone. Judas had run out of patience waiting for Jesus’ Kingdom to come. Maybe Judas had given up on Jesus, and took that money to start a new life without him. Or maybe he hoped that Jesus—with his back to the wall—would finally wield his mighty, miraculous power to claim his royal throne, with Judas at his side. Either way, Judas’ disappointed expectations led this disciple to betray Jesus Christ and lose everything.

In our own day, some Christians leave the Lord Jesus after following him for decades. Oftentimes, this happens after a painful tragedy: a terrible diagnosis, a failed marriage, a Church scandal, a child’s tragic death. It is not the Christian life they had envisioned. They likely asked God for a particular miracle but it was not given. I know a man from a previous parish who attends Mass with his wife every Sunday, but he stopped receiving Holy Communion many years ago after their teenage daughter died in a car crash. I know of another long-time Catholic who reportedly became embittered at losing his good health and refused a Catholic funeral. How should a follower of Jesus Christ respond to life’s profound and painful trials?

On the first Good Friday, when Jesus died on the Cross, the Gospel of St. Luke tells us “all his acquaintances stood at a distance, including the women who had followed him from Galilee and saw these events.” St. John’s Gospel highlights that the Blessed Virgin Mary was there at the Cross of Christ along with his beloved disciple. What did they feel like amid that horror? What miracles did they plead for that day? Their prayers to heaven seemed to go unheard. The next day, in shock and grieving on Holy Saturday, they may have questioned in their hearts, “Where was God? How could he let this happen? Does he not care? Where is his faithfulness to his faithful ones? How could this be part of a loving plan?” But the next day, on Easter Sunday, they witnessed the joyful resurrection Jesus had promised, and God’s loving, mysterious purposes became clearer.

Jesus told his disciples and says to us, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Jesus does not promise us a life exactly as we would plan it for ourselves. Not every prayer for a miracle will be granted exactly as we would imagine. But remember, the Kingdom of Jesus Christ will come for his faithful ones.

One Response to “Why They Rejected Christ”

  1. pussywillowpress Says:

    To put it in a nutshell :),
    “If you rashly presume to improve upon the divine plan,
    you will be the sufferer.”
    – Don Lorenzo Scupoli, _The Spiritual Combat_

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