Jermiah 1:4-5; I Corinthians 12:31-13:13; Luke 4:21-31
I’d been meditating on today’s Gospel for a few weeks when I was struck by a line in yesterday’s Gospel (for the Feast of the Presentation) that may get short shrift: [Anna] spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem. What a terrible burden to put on anyone’s childhood! What expectations, what inflated notions might have already been in place when Jesus spoke in the synagogue of Nazareth?!!?
Granted, Anna was in Jerusalem and Jesus grew up at the other end of the country in Galilee. Perhaps Joseph and Mary hadn’t told him about those rumors–you know how it is: you don’t want your kid to get a swollen head! And maybe that’s why Mary was so touchy when her twelve year old son stayed behind in Jerusalem and in the Temple no less! Whenever I read that Gospel, I don’t hear Mary saying Son, why have you done this to us? with the Anglo-Saxon poise of an actress in a Jesus-movie; no I hear the anguished urgency of Mrs. Cohen–who lived three doors down from us–when she’d sunject her son, Stevie, my best friend, to the third degree. Mary must have had fearful associations with the Temple in Jerusalem.
It’s plausible that she was at synagogue during the events described in today’s Gospel when her worst fears were fulfilled. First the wonder and praise from the congregation–that’s embarrassing enough–and then the outrage and the mob violence. Although her boy had the moxy to walk through the crowd she must have known that her troubles were just beginning.
I suppose we’ve all acted like this congregation: most of us do with elected officials, movie stars, most any public figure. It’s something we do collectively: we’re wowed at first and then we lap up the gossip and take a particular delight in picking such people to pieces. Just recall two musicals that celebrate the dynamic: Jesus Christ, Superstar and Evita. Perhaps we can’t get either of them off the stage because they resonate with every human crowd: praise and destruction of the same individual. What do we get out of doing that? We must get something out of it–a group identity?–or we’d have been bored by the sport long ago. But that’s only one side of today’s Gospel. The other side also describes us: it’s Jesus’ side.
We may share the weakness of the congregation at Nazareth but we also share Jesus’ vocation. We also, each of us, take responsibility for the Word of God and proclaim it in some way, securing the concrete connections in daily life. And then what? Collective praise and support as well as collective suspicion and opposition. I’m sure Jesus wasn’t surprised. Even if Mary never mentioned her worst fears to him, he would have felt them; surely he could read his mom’s moods as well as any of us! He knew what would come after the praise, so he didn’t milk it for all it was worth. After all it’s not worth too much from a crowd as it would be from one person whose life had really been changed by him. Or by any one of us.
Perhaps that’s the difference between a crowd and a community. A crowd happens to be a group of people unconsciously groping at an identity. A community is composed of individuals responsively interacting, taking responsibility. Today, in this Eucharist, in this communion, will I be an individual seeking God with you or part of a crowd huddling under the same umbrella, the same label?