Monday of the Third Week of Lent
(Click here for readings)
(Click here for readings)
By KATIE GROSS
Jesus said to the people in the synagogue at Nazareth:
“Amen, I say to you,
no prophet is accepted in his own native place.
Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel
in the days of Elijah
when the sky was closed for three and a half years
and a severe famine spread over the entire land.
It was to none of these that Elijah was sent,
but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon.
Again, there were many lepers in Israel
during the time of Elisha the prophet;
yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
When the people in the synagogue heard this,
they were all filled with fury.
They rose up, drove him out of the town,
on which their town had been built,
to hurl him down headlong.
But he passed through the midst of them and went away.
Why is a prophet never accepted in his own native place? Beneath this question lies one of the biggest controversies of our faith: that Jesus Christ became man for our salvation. The average Christian may not be floored by this fact anymore; after all, we hear it every Sunday and generally believe it to be true. However, what most Christians don’t realize is that 99.99% of all modern arguments against our faith revolve around the mystery of the incarnation. Here’s why: the world loves to believe in a “mush God,” and hates the idea of our personal God. I heard first of this “mush God” in a theology class, so I looked it up—and, bingo—it appears as though one writer has him pegged:
“The Mush God has been known to appear all over the world on Sunday mornings to a great many people wanting to relax and read the Sunday paper and have a nice cup of coffee… During the week, the Mush God appears all over the place. He appears with politicians at ribbon-cutting ceremonies, and to clergymen speaking at the start of all the various legislative proceedings… The Mush God just adores politicians… He just loves to talk about his views on tolerance… [he] is a serviceable god who will fit in anywhere. Here is a God that will compromise with you. He will gladly relax the rules… Here is a god who is a good friend to everyone, in fact the Mush God tells all his friends that they can do no wrong, that all activities are fine with him. And most people just love him for that and are all too happy to follow him, wherever he might lead them.”
This is where the incarnation becomes scandalous, because when God has a face and a voice, He can’t be bent every which-way to fit the occasion. The people of Ancient Israel just couldn’t accept that Jesus, the boy down the street who was the son of Joseph, could be their God. Their God was a theory, an intellectual idea that could be bent to fit their society—not a person with an opinion and a personality. Much like the people of Ancient Israel, Americans love to have a convenient God to pull out at “National Prayer Breakfasts” and baseball games. But what now, that God is a person? What now, that God has a voice to object and to speak the real truth? What now, that there even exists a real truth? Well, that just doesn’t fit the bill. Just like the people of Ancient Israel, some Americans are trying to drive Jesus off a cliff in favor of their “mush god.”
More simply put, Jesus wasn’t accepted in His native place because we as humans have a hard time accepting that God exists concretely, entirely independent of our idea of Him. This is where the idea of the “personal God” of Christianity comes into play. The “personal God” of Christianity is not personal in the sense that He can be tailored to personal taste, but personal in the sense that… well… He is a person! This idea that Jesus is a person has to revolutionize our idea of how we relate to God. This is the basis of our faith.
I equate this idea to my relationship with my parents. Let’s say that I wanted to take a Spring Break road trip alone with my friends to Mexico. Right now, being in high school, I would have to sit down face-to-face with my parents and ask for permission to go. I could try to propose a million theories of why it was right for me to go on the road trip. I could even present a thirty-slide powerpoint of why it was okay for me to go. However, even with all of my logic combined, I could not impose my will on them, because they are human beings who have a voice and a mind and an opinion. However, if I were to be in college, mom and dad would be more of “ideas” than people. I wouldn’t hear their voice or their opinion. I could very easily convince myself that mom and dad would be okay with me going, or that their opinion didn’t matter at all. Ideas can be molded into anything—people cannot. Jesus cannot.
However, this concept of a personal God is not solely centered on judgment. Jesus’ voice is not harsh or dictatorial, and His judgment is always in the interest of our wellbeing. As a human, God has the power to relate to us and understand us like nothing else can. After all, “ideas” or this concept of “the truth” are just that—things written down on paper. These don’t transform lives—only a human relationship rooted in love can change lives. This is the beauty of believing in a personal God.