When Jesus went back to his home place, Nazareth, they invited him to preach in the synagogue. Their first reaction to him was extremely favorable. They were astonished at the gracious words he spoke. However, their admiration soon turned into doubt, then into hostility. What went wrong?
They still saw him as just the son of Joseph. And they felt that if he had anything to offer, then they, the people of his own home town, should be the first to benefit from it. Without showing any real faith in him, they demanded that he do in Nazareth some of the wonderful things he had done elsewhere – after all, charity begins at home. They felt they had a divine right to be the first to benefit from his gifts.
But he said that what matters is not who you are, but whether or not you have faith. There is no room in the Kingdom of God for privilege. God’s charity begins wherever there is human need, and the faith to receive it. He gave two examples – the cure of the widow of Zarephath and the cure of Naarnan, both of whom were Gentiles.
On hearing that the benefits they had rejected (through lack of faith in Jesus) would be offered to the Gentiles, the people were outraged. As Jews, they were the people of God. Those others were outsiders and sinners. How dare he suggest that the Gentiles would be preferred to them. They took him from the synagogue, and tried to do away with him. Why did they turn on him so angrily? Because of what he said. That was the first reason. But there was a deeper reason. It was because he showed the ugly things that lay hidden in them. If you stir up a stagnant pond a lot of mud will rise to the surface.
Regrettably, religion sometimes brings out the worst in people. It makes them narrower, more bigoted, and more apt to hate and kill. We see an ugly example of this in the citizens of Nazareth. But this kind of thing still happens. Religion can get distorted and turn into some-thing repulsive such as fanaticism and bigotry. Religion becomes synonymous with narrow-mindedness, small-heartedness and intolerance.
But religion can also bring out the best in people. It makes them more tolerant and more loving. True religion liberates the heart and the mind, and fosters harmonious relationships with others. Religion is beautiful when it is like this. The question each of us must ask is: What does religion bring out in me?
There is an essential link between faith and love. St Paul says, “There are three things that last: faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love.” What’s the use in having faith and hope if we are lacking in love?