We feel more comfortable in our own neighborhoods and around people we know and are familiar with. Every summer when I go back to Kansas and celebrate mass I feel comfortable sharing the gospel with the people back there because so many of them are distant relatives and people that I feel connected to in some way. I can relate more easily to the challenges and struggles of their lives. However, as we see in the gospel stories of Jesus trying to preach in his hometown, sometimes familiarity can be an obstacle to people really listening to the words we have to share because our family remembers us as a little kid growing up and they have a difficult time seeing us in another role as evangelizer. When they remember us as a little kid running around the neighborhood they have a hard time understanding where our authority to preach the gospel of life comes from.
Jesus began his ministry by sharing the gospel message and healing people in his own neighborhood of Nazareth and around the Sea of Galilee. Many of the people in these small towns probably knew Jesus from his work with his father Joseph in carpentry and many of them were probably members of his extended family, second, third and more distant cousins. People were happy to listen to the message of Jesus and to receive his healing but often they couldn’t get past having known him as a small boy growing up. What does the carpenter or the son of Joseph and Mary have to teach us about life? They probably thought that he was a nice boy but they couldn’t recognize him as the Son of God and the Messiah. After beginning in his old neighborhood around the Sea of Galilee, Jesus begins to carry his mission out a little further away from his home. We see Jesus in the gospel traveling into the area of the Decapolis. This area of ten cities across the Sea of Galilee from his home neighborhood was a largely Greek and pagan people. The cities of Tyre and Sidon were ancient Phoenician cities, the hometown of Jezebel in the Old Testament.
The people that he encountered around the Decapolis had difficulty hearing and speaking the Word of God because it was not familiar to them. The person that is brought to Jesus today represents these people. He is deaf and mute and we can see in him our own broken selves who have difficulty hearing and proclaiming a new life of faith. Jesus shows great compassion and patience with this poor fellow who is struggling to hear and proclaim the gospel. He first takes him apart from the crowd for a while and spends some personal time with him getting to know him. It is in a sense a little time of retreat for this fellow. Sometimes we need this time of retreat to get to know Jesus better before we can really begin to listen to his words and accept the gift of new life that he is offering.
This little encounter with Jesus reminds me of my own faith journey. Having grown up with the gospel I had often heard the gospel proclaimed at mass and in catechism classes but I had not yet been able to really apply the teachings of Jesus to my own life or receive the power of his healing and the new life that he had to offer to my own personal life. It was only after I was able to go on a retreat with the youth group that I was able to enter into a more personal relationship with Jesus. That retreat made a profound difference in my journey of faith. During that retreat I feel that Jesus touched my ears and opened my mouth to be able to hear the gospel message of new life in Christ and begin to share that message with others. After that retreat I was able to go on many more retreats and begin to share the gospel message with others. I still see that dynamic happening time and time again with our young people today. That little time apart from others to spend some personal and intimate time with Jesus really set my life on a new journey of faith. After that retreat it was hard to keep me from sharing the joy of the experience that I had encountered in my time with Jesus. Others brought me to Jesus and he opened my ears and my tongue to begin to share the gospel message with others.
If we are struggling to hear the good news of God’s love in our lives and proclaiming that message in faith then maybe we need a little personal time with Jesus away from others. Jesus wants to touch our ears and our tongues and open the way for a new experience of life in the Spirit. A spiritual retreat might just be the beginning of a new way of life in faith and a new relationship in faith and love with God our loving Father.