Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinay Time at Mississippi Abbey

Familiarity breeds contempt. A sign in someone’s front yard read, “Talking Dog for Sale.” One prospective buyer went to the front door and asked to see the dog. The owner led him to his backyard where a Labrador Retriever was sitting on the lawn. The buyer asked, “Does he really talk?” The Labrador replied, “I sure do.” Astonished, the buyer said, “I’ve never met a dog that could talk. Tell me about yourself.” So, the Labrador Retriever told about his long undercover career with the CIA, all the eavesdropping he had done in high places, and his countless secret missions. The man was simply blown away. Excited, on the way back he asked the owner how much he wanted for the dog. He replied, “Ten dollars.” Not sure that he heard correctly, the buyer repeated, “Only ten dollars! Why are you selling this extraordinary dog so cheaply?” The owner said, “Because he’s a liar. I’ve known this dog for years and he never did any of that spy stuff.”1 Familiarity breeds contempt.

Even so, the people of Nazareth thought Jesus was just an ordinary carpenter. They didn’t even call him by name, referring to Jesus only as “this man.” It’s the scandal of the Incarnation described by Origen who writes: “We cannot understand how the very Wisdom of God through whom all things were created could have entered the womb of a virgin, and be born as one that screams and cries like any other baby.2

Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, Br. Simeon, writes that, “Jesus’ Heart was full to bursting with the desire to confer life and love, to welcome people into divine fellowship in the community of the Blessed Trinity, and yet such longing was met by suspicion and rejection.3 Jesus left Nazareth and did not return there again.

The response to contempt is not avoiding familiarity, because without familiarity you can’t breed anything, or, as Mark Twain writes, “Familiarity breeds contempt, and children.” If we want intimacy with Jesus, we do not need less familiarity but more love. We can learn something about love from little children.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 19:14). A group of young children were asked what love means. Their replies are surprisingly profound:

Terry, age 4: “Love is what makes you smile even if you’re tired.

Bobby, age 7: “Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas when you stop opening presents and listen.

Emily, age 8: “Love is when you kiss all the time. Then when you get tired of kissing, you talk a lot.”

Noelle, age 7: “Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, and then he wears it every day.

Billy, age 4: “When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different.

Niki, age 6: “If you want to learn how to love, start with a friend who you hate.

Yes, it’s love that keeps our familiarity with Jesus and with others from slipping into contempt.