Father Koch focuses on religious freedom in his reflection for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Photo from unsplash.com
Father Koch focuses on religious freedom in his reflection for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Photo from unsplash.com
Gospel reflection for July 4, 2021, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

As we reflect today on the freedoms and opportunities that we enjoy as a nation on this 245th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, we know that we have many national issues to confront. Among the most pressing for us as Christians, and certainly for men and women of all faiths, is the integrity of religious freedom as enshrined in our federal Constitution. The bishops have addressed this situation over the past decade, and it seems to be of increasing concern in our times.

As Jesus enters his home town and enters the synagogue to teach, he suffered from the problem of familiarity. Those who have known him for most of his life pondered the question as to who Jesus thought he was and that he dared to preach to them in the manner that he did. They were suspicious of his teaching because they presumably knew that he was not as educated in the Law as he sounded. They also know his family well and could not imagine that he had anything to say to them that was not somehow tainted by the relationships between his extended family and their neighbors.

In a sense, the Church in the U.S., in particular, suffers this same sort of crisis with the world around us. From the very beginnings of our nation, Catholics have been held in suspicion by the majority of the population. During the colonial period and at the founding of our nation, the intra-Christian conflicts in Europe were a present reality, and many fled those wars and persecutions to settle here in order to find protection and freedom. While Catholics, mostly from the German states, did arrive here in that time, their predominant English and Protestant neighbors were suspicious of their loyalty, and certainly of their religious beliefs. The practice of Catholicism was illegal in many states, even into the early nineteenth century.

In our time the prejudice continues. Some of it is the holdover from old prejudices, and some of it is because the rest of the world is well-aware of our intra-family squabbling and what is often called “dirty laundry.” The various scandals that have plagued the Church especially over the past 20 years, as well as the negative press on the Church, make us more a matter of suspicion and even hatred, rather than a source of comfort and solidarity with the poor and downtrodden.

All of this makes it difficult for the Church to stand as a prophet in the world today, yet that is precisely what we are called to do and to be. Jesus was the prophetic voice pleading with the world for conversion and to be open to the work of the Kingdom of God, and he was rejected. The Church, as with Jesus at Nazareth, must continue to face the certainty of rejection in order to truly and authentically proclaim the Gospel.

There are certainly those who are afraid or unwilling to take up the work of evangelization preferring compromise or an easier path than the one that Jesus sets before us. Often this is due to the fear of rejection. One thing we learn from Jesus, but certainly seldom ever focus on, is that there is no room for ego in the proclamation of the Gospel. This egoist culture has certainly infiltrated the Church and is likely now at the core of all our sins.

Jesus went to Nazareth, not to be praised by his contemporaries, but to speak the truth to them. Yes, he was amazed that they were so obstinate and stuck in their own preconceived notions that they were fundamentally closed to his message. However, Jesus does not take their rejection personally nor does he allow it to redirect or thwart his mission. He did not immediately cry out to his Heavenly Father and decide to change the message or forego the mission.

As he instructs his disciples to do later on when he sends them forth, Jesus shook off the dust from his feet and left Nazareth for the last time.

If we learn nothing else from the Gospel it is that the Gospel will be more widely rejected than accepted throughout every time and place. Jesus is forced out of Nazareth, he is sent away from the area of the Gerasenes, he is hung on the Cross.

Today as we reflect on this Gospel, we are called to care little if the world, or our nation accepts it. Certainly like Jesus at Nazareth, we hope that we can call all to conversion and lead them to eternal life. But as at Nazareth, only the few want to be truly touched by Jesus and healed of their sins and brokenness.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.