There is just a little bit of cognitive dissonance in today’s Gospel reading. Jesus comes to the synagogue to preach and to reveal that the reign of God has begun. At one point, Jesus is confronted by an unclean spirit which announces: ““What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!”
Despite the fact that the unclean spirit announces who Jesus is, the people are perplexed and amazed. They cannot understand how he can rebuke unclean spirits and expel them. They are amazed, and their amazement begins to spread throughout the surrounding region.
If Jesus is the Holy One of God, why are they amazed at his power? The unclean spirit has revealed who Jesus is, yet the people fail to see Jesus in this role. He is, after all, the son of Mary and Joseph, their neighbors. They have watched Jesus grow up. This is not supposed to happen. Though he clearly has the power to expel demons, they simply cannot accept that God would bestow this power upon someone they have known all their lives.
The old adage tells us that familiarity breeds contempt. That certainly seems to be the case in this Gospel passage. However, lest we be too hard on the people of Capernaum, this kind of thinking continues to this very day. Generally speaking, we tend to disregard the familiar and crave the new and the exotic.
The people of Capernaum do not understand how Jesus can do or say the things they see and hear that day. Sadly, it is just the beginning of the tale of rejection that Jesus will encounter in his mission to announce the Reign of God. As we shift our attention to the Gospel of Luke for the rest of the liturgical year, we will learn that Jesus tends to challenge the expectations of the people of his time. May we also come to realize that the Reign of God is among us in the here and now.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator