You have heard it many, many times—“Familiarity breeds contempt.” Frequently, people take others for granted for two reasons: familiarity and pride. You may add a third reason—ignorance which often wears the garb of “I-know-it-all” or “I’m better.” Familiarity, pride, ignorance played out well in the first reading and the gospel of today. Relatives of Jesus who thought they knew him well poured contempt on him. They called him a carpenter; not in the sense of a craftsman or technician, but a village carpenter who only made plows and yokes that any peasant of his day was capable of making. They also called him Mary’s son. Among the Jews, to describe a man as the “son of his mother,” even when the father is deceased is often an insult. The mention of the so-called brothers and sisters of Jesus is a bit controversial. Some think they were cousins of the Lord, a position that the Church holds. Others prefer to call them children of Joseph from a previous marriage. Yet there remains those who, to discredit the doctrine of the virgin birth and the perpetual virginity of Mary, have maintained that those were also children of Mary. In any case, their names appeared in a sense or tune that indicated they were not prominent people in the society. They were common folks like a regular Joe or Bill. They took offence at Jesus. He was just another one of them, and no more. He didn’t come from a line of rabbis, doctors, and the noble of the society. They took him for granted and lost out.
The second reason why people take others for granted is pride. Ignorance and foolishness are its daughters. When pride matures, it breeds jealousy, and some complex—either inferiority or superiority complex. What follows is obstinacy and hardness of heart. Their grandchild is rebellion. The prophet Ezekiel was sent to prophecy to a people bedeviled by this sickness. With unrelenting words, he describes the Israelites of his days as “impudent” and “stubborn.” It won’t be wrong to say so about many men, women, and children of our day.
When familiarity, pride, foolishness, obstinacy, and rebellion form alliance, they knock out reason and disparage faith. With reason and faith out of the equation, human life becomes imprisoned in the self and in the candlelight of mediocrity. Consequently, the ego, made in the image and likeness of the spirit of the world in which it lives reigns supreme. Fulton Sheen describes the ego as the spoiled child in us—selfish, petulant, clamorous, and spoiled—the creation of our mistakes in living. It hates anything that does not gratify it; so, when we don’t feel fine about our car, we change it; when pleasure ebbs in our spouse, we change marriage beds; when we don’t feel fine about our Church, we change church or faith. Fanned by the ego, life becomes meaningless and monotonous. Such monotony destroys life’s purpose.
But life is only monotonous if it is meaningless; it is only meaningless if it has no purpose. Those who are full of life and faith love monotony; they love repetition. Put a child in your knee and bounce it up and down two to three times and the child will say, “Do it again.” Because God is full of life, I imagine each morning the Almighty says to the sun: “Do it again,” and every evening to the moon and stars, “Do it again.” We would continually ask our heart to “do it again” (Sheen). If we are full of life and full of love, we won’t grow so familiar with the Mass, with Holy Communion that we lose the sense of the life we gain from such a great gift. Religion (our faith, prayer) is a living thing. It is like bread we use every day, not like cake which is used on special occasions. When faith is intentional it permeates our lives and won’t be something we pull out only on Sunday mornings. May God’s life in us warm up our existence and bring excitement to our lives!
Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo