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In the early 1800’s the Central American country of Poyais became an exceptional place for the British wealthy to invest their money. The indigenous people were friendly and hard-working, there was a well established harbor for trade, and the capital city of St. Joseph was uniquely English, sporting all the fineries of society, including an opera house. And it was the Cazique, a princely title, of Poyais that travelled the ocean to England looking for investors, which he found in droves. They invested in banks, land, corporations, mineral rights, and even titles.
To show off this great land of opportunity, the Cazique hired a boat, and sold tickets to some of those early investors for them to be the first to arrive. When they did, they found themselves on the Mosquito Coast of what is now Nicaragua. There was no harbor. There was no capital city. There was no friendly labor. And there was no Cazique of Poyais. Why? Because there was no Poyais. It was a country that had been made-up by a very hardworking and apparently, convincing con-artist.
Following his scamming tour through the elite of British society, Gregor MacGregor had amassed a substantial fortune: £200,000, the equivalent of £3.6 billion today. He died some twenty-five years later in Venezuela, a very happy and wealthy fraud.
The fraudster has accomplished some remarkable tricks. One sold the Eiffel Tower for scrap metal… twice! Another sold the Brooklyn Bridge… twice! There’s Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi (another fraudster) scheme and Enron, both managing to steal millions from investors. Then there are the other frauds. Milli Vanilli: a pop duo who sold millions of records and even won a grammy. Turns out they never sang a note and were lip-synching it all. Add in the cheaters, plagiarist, false credentials, and you really do wonder who you can trust. Although I do feel that Mrs. Masinga Mbeki is legitimate and really does need someone to help her move $5 million out of an unnamed country.
Fraudsters have been around since the beginning, some of whom have even claimed to be the Son of God. Take that Jesus fella. Everyone knows he’s just Joe’s boy. Disappears for a couple of years and comes back here claiming that he’s the Messiah. Even got himself a few “followers” to assist with the con. We’re not going to fall for that one.
Today in our Gospel, Jesus returned to his hometown and it doesn’t seem to go as planned. He is now being rejected by his hometown, just as he had earlier been rejected by the religious leaders: the people said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” Jesus was not surprised by this reaction: “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” I would like to think that our reaction would have been different, but I suspect that it would have been quite similar.
We all know ____. He/she is a relatively good person. Leads a fine life. Comes to church, etc., but let’s say that _____ disappears for a couple of years, then returns with a small ragtag group of followers, all of who claim that _____ is the Messiah. They tell us that _____ is in trouble with the religious leaders in Oklahoma City for preaching the Kingdom of God, but Oh!, did we mention, just yesterday he/she raised a little girl from the dead. And, before I forget, you should also know that his/her mom was a virgin, and that he/she was conceived by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit and is in fact the Son of God. Riiight. I may have been born at night, but not last night. And like the folks in Jesus’ hometown who took offense at him, we take offense at _____. Who does he think he is? He’s just Joe’s boy. He’s a fraud.
The religious leaders rejected him. His hometown rejected him. Some commentators state that his family rejected him. Many others rejected him as well. But the disciples… the disciples believed. What was the difference?
A Chinese boy who wanted to learn about jade went to study with a talented old teacher. This gentle man put a piece of the precious stone into his hand and told him to hold it tight. Then he began to talk of philosophy, men, women, the sun and almost everything under it. After an hour he took back the stone and sent the boy home. The procedure was repeated for several weeks. The boy became frustrated. When would he be told about the jade? He was too polite, however, to question the wisdom of his venerable teacher. Then one day, several months later, when the old man put a stone into the boy’s hands, the boy cried out, “That’s not jade!”
Many believed that Jesus was a fraud, but those who had spent time with him, listening, watching, learning, these understood that he was no fraud. “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus revealed himself to them through word and deed and they received him: “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”
You can only know Jesus is Lord through the work of the Spirit. Paul writes, “No one can say Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” But we can cooperate in this work with the Spirit by drawing near to Jesus and entering into that deeper relationship with him. By entering into friendship with Jesus. “You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” He has called us friends and we must respond.
My friend Thomas à Kempis writes, “You cannot live well without a friend, and if Jesus be not your friend above all else, you will be very sad and desolate. Thus, you are acting foolishly if you trust or rejoice in any other. Choose the opposition of the whole world rather than offend Jesus. Of all those who are dear to you, let Him be your special love. Let all things be loved for the sake of Jesus, but Jesus for His own sake. Jesus Christ must be loved alone with a special love for He alone, of all friends, is good and faithful.”
By responding to Jesus’ friendship, his drawing near to us – remembering: “We love because he first loved us.” – we come to know him as the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
Pope Francis made this appeal to all during his sermon at the Easter Vigil in 2013: “Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome him as a friend, with trust: he is life! If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms. If you have been indifferent, take a risk: you won’t be disappointed. If following him seems difficult, don’t be afraid, trust him, be confident that he is close to you, he is with you and he will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as he would have you do.”
From the beginning, there have been those who reject Jesus for any number of reasons and they condemn themselves by doing so. There have also been those who keep him at arms length, never allowing him full entrance into their souls, only seeing him as a “nice idea” or a “morally good person;” however, Jesus gives these a warning: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Therefore, do the will of the Father: repent, believe—enter in and know Jesus as the Son of the Living God.
Let us pray: Father in Heaven, when the Spirit came down upon Jesus at His Baptism in the Jordan, You revealed Him as Your own Beloved Son. Keep us, Your children, born of water and the Spirit, faithful to our calling. May we, who share in Your Life as Your children through Baptism, follow in Christ’s path of service to people. Let us become one in His Sacrifice and hear His Word with faith. May we live as Your children, following the example of Jesus. In His name we pray. Amen.