There’s a theme in today’s gospel that bears some wisdom for all of us when it comes to our own growth and development. It might be especially helpful in our evaluation of the resources we take advantage of as we “advance in wisdom, age and favor before God and man.” (cf. Lk 2:52).
Imagine the scene as the young Jesus who has grown up in the community is now becoming a teacher within and for the community. It can’t have been easy for some of those who had watched him grow to now begin to listen to some different-sounding ideas come from his lips. He didn’t speak in the same way as his teachers did, and yet he was one of them still. There was something just a little off, just a little different in how he approached the themes of life and of relationship with God. They were confronted by his obvious wisdom, but his way of communicating it was unique. For some, I suspect they found it engaging. For others, they may have found it challenging or even upsetting. His actions said something too. They couldn’t just write him off. Yet for all that, they were distressed enough by him that the gospel tells us “they took offence at him”.
I imagine those villagers were good, decent folk, just getting along fine in their own little world. I doubt they neither expected nor hoped for the coming of the Messiah in their lifetime. They were true to their traditions of both culture and of faith, or at least as true to what they understood those traditions and customs to be. But Jesus seems somehow to be disturbing all that for them. The way he says things is just a little different… a little too different. They took offence at him.
In my years of ministry, from the very beginning, one of the areas that has commanded my attention has been the faith formation of adults. I have been called within my priesthood to work with adults who are looking to deepen their understanding of their faith, and of their relationship with God and with the Church. It wasn’t unusual for me to meet people who were struggling, who were seeking and who were on the edge of things, when it comes to church and a life of faith. It would have been easy for them to write off the Church, or God, but they didn’t. They were struggling to grow and to understand. The understandings of their childhood, for a myriad of different reasons, were no longer adequate to their adult lives. Often, human experience had been a tough teacher, and the simple explanation of childhood were no longer adequate. Adult life, adult experience, required adult faith. Neither was it unusual for me to encounter people who were self-assured in their faith. They were quick to quote catechism and bible, but I always sensed something was missing in their lives, and when they grew to trust enough, they would share that they longed for a relationship with God, a real relationship. Somehow they had substituted the teaching of the church and the certitudes of formulaic faith for a personal encounter with the living God, with Jesus. In both of these kinds of experiences, I have witnessed the amazing grace of God at work in people’s lives. It has been my privilege to accompany men and women as they delved into their relationship with God and with one another as God’s people of faith. What both of these kinds of people shared in common was their trust in God and their willingness to grow and to be transformed by their deepening understanding of who they are before God and among God’s people. Once they overcame their fears and trusted, they blossomed. The grain died so the crop might flourish. The alternative was sterility and death. I have encountered many who have opted for this kind of living also.
We are all called to engage in lifelong learning so that we can continue to grow in our faith. We may be tempted to “take offence” at the ways in which the Gospel calls us to transformation and new life, but the alternative is a hardness of heart and a suffocation of the Spirit in our lives. Ours is a heritage and a tradition within the Church whereby adult faith is to be a faith that is alive, explicit and fruitful in our lives (cf Jn 15:8). We don’t have the luxury of not growing in our faith.