In last week’s gospel, Jesus stands up at the synagogue and reads the following passage from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Holy One is upon me; therefore, God has anointed me and sent me to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty for captives, sight to the blind, release to prisoners, to announce a year of favor from God.” With all eyes upon him, Jesus announces, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus makes it clear that he is the anointed one of God, the one who ushers in God’s kingdom in which the poor will receive good news, the captives will be freed, the blind will see, and all will experience the favor of God.
So what happened after Jesus makes this proclamation? Taken by Jesus’ inspiring message ourselves, we might imagine Jesus’ family, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances standing up, cheering, and asking what they can do to help him accomplish this wonderful mission. This is the sort of inspirational speech that can move hearts and spark movements for change. Yet in this week’s gospel from Luke, we read that the reaction of the crowd is, at best, a mixed bag. While some present say nice things about Jesus (perhaps how fitting it is that this kind carpenter’s son should be God’s prophet), others ask with some disbelief, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” In other words, they seem shocked that someone from their class, from the lowly, working poor, could possibly be God’s anointed one. (This shows evidence of what can be called “internalized oppression.” Having been treated as less than fully human by others in their society, the poor come to believe this about themselves and thus have trouble fathoming that God’s anointed one would come from their midst.)
Jesus’ answer to this disbelief is to recall instances where other Hebrew prophets were not accepted in their own lands. This seems to only stoke the fire in those who doubt him, and the mob ends up not only kicking him out of town but also making an attempt on his life by trying to throw him over the edge of a hill. Those in Jesus’ hometown clearly have trouble seeing him for who he really is.
When I was a senior in college, the one job I was offered for the following year was teaching middle school religious studies at a Catholic school. I had to really think about the job offer, even though it was my only one, because it was not just at any school. It was at the school that I had attended for eight years and that my youngest brother still attended. Before making my decision, I had a long talk with my brother to see what he thought about me being his teacher and his friends’ teacher. We enumerated all of the potential negatives of me taking the job, but in the end, we decided that the negatives could not outweigh the fact that I would have gainful employment. So I took the job.
Far from being a negative, taking that job ended up being the best thing that ever happened to my relationship with my youngest brother, who is ten years younger than me. I had left for college when he was eight years old and, in a sense, missed the next four years of his life. So when I started teaching him, not only did I not know him all that well, but I also had the idea in my head that he was the comedian/goof off in the family who needed me to take care of him. As his teacher, I saw him as I had never seen him before. He was still funny, but he was also a leader in his class who took some risks to speak up when he noticed some unjust treatment of students both by other students and even some of the teachers. He was kind and sensitive, and people sought out his advice and friendship. It took me seeing him outside of our family, where his role is to be the youngest and goofiest of the five kids, to really see who he was as a person.
As it turns out, he had the same experience of me. In our family, I am the nerd, the one who cries at the drop of the hat (admittedly I did cry at the American Pie movies), the one who needs help cutting my steak (I do not even remember how this characterization of me started, but it is the most consistent joke made about me by family, even to this day as I cut my children’s food for them). But having me as a teacher enabled my brother to see me doing what I love doing best: teaching and talking about religion. It helped him to see me as my own person and not just his big sister.
In this week’s Spirit magazine, Father Greg Boyle uses the analogy of holding up mirrors for people so that they can see who they really are. In my experience, I have discovered that people in my family have a tendency to hold up foggy mirrors to each other, allowing our impressions of how that person interacts in our family to cloud out ability to see who they really are. But I don’t want to drive my siblings and other family members away, as Jesus’ community did to him in this week’s gospel. Perhaps the solution to cleaning up my foggy mirrors is to find a way to meet the people in my life who I care about the most in their environments, in places outside the family where they can be who they really are, so that I am in a position to better reflect back to them their goodness, their gifts and talents, and the love that God has for them.
Are there people in your life who see you through a foggy mirror? What can you do to help them get to know the real you?
Are there people in your life who you see through a foggy mirror? What can you do to get to know the real them?
Photo courtesy of Paul Keller via Creative Commons License