Chapter 6: Rejection {Jesus: A Pilgrimage}


Welcome to our virtual book club! We’re reading Fr. James Martin’s bestseller, Jesus: A Pilgrimage. Each week we will tackle a chapter and look forward to a lively discussion together.

Jesus book conversation

Rejection. Who hasn’t feared it, dreaded it, lived through it? And isn’t it the worst when it comes from the people you know and love best?

Just this past weekend I spent time with family members in Chicago for a special occasion. At one point my nephew was giving us a guided tour of the city. The conversation turned to religion and I started to wince. There were the quietly disparaging remarks, the uninformed opinions, the lack of understanding. There was the assumption that people of faith are exclusionary, that they are rigid in their way of thinking.

It began to feel suffocating in the car and I longed to get out. I couldn’t think of anything to say that would change their minds (until several days later when I’d had a chance to think about it). I’m just no good thinking on my feet. I couldn’t even pray. All I could do was feel very sad.

How did Jesus feel being soundly rejected by all the people he grew up with? Fr. Martin described Jesus as “popular”:

“Jesus was sought after, popular as in the original Latin popularis—belonging to, accepted by, the people.” (pg. 111, e-book)

While he was referring to Jesus in his ministry it’s probable he was well-liked by his own kin as well.

When Jesus stood to read the scripture and then sat to comment on it, Fr. Martin writes,

“When they saw Jesus stand up in the gathering on the Sabbath, some of those in attendance in Nazareth may have thought, There is my friend Jesus, I wonder what he’ll say. He always has something interesting to say about Scripture. Or, I wonder where Jesus has been for the last few weeks. Someone said something about the desert. He’s probably thinking about joining the Baptist—he’s always been that devout. Or, There is Mary and Joseph’s son. I remember him when he was a little boy, and even before, when here was all that trouble over his birth. Or perhaps, There’s my carpenter. I haven’t seen him in a few weeks. I wonder when he’s going to start that job! (Remember that in the Gospels people in the area refer to Jesus more frequently as “the carpenter” then they do “the rabbi”).” (pg. 113)

Jesus was proclaiming the best news anyone could hear: this scripture was being fulfilled in their hearing. The long-awaited reign of God was here, standing right in front of them! The reign of God encompassed all the other messages associated with Jesus’ teaching and ministry: loving your enemies, offering forgiveness, caring for the poor, healing the sick, etc. Jesus thus embodied healing, teaching, touching, loving, friendship, fellowship, righteousness, power, courage and justice. It required his kin to see their brother and friend in a whole new way.

Initially the people of Nazareth were impressed with Jesus’ knowledge and grace. Undoubtedly there was magnetism about him. But when they start to parse his words and recall that he was, in fact, one of them, then they took offense at him.

“They cannot get over the fact that someone from their hometown is saying and doing these things. They move quickly from amazement to anger. Jealously may have played a role as well.” (pg. 116).

What is it about the family dynamic that causes a larger vision to shrink like this? Why is our family so critical of what we do when people outside of our families praise what we do?

Jesus was not immune to these feelings:

“Mark’s earlier version is more poignant—you can almost feel Jesus’ sorrow in having to say what he is about to say. In Greek his words could be translated as ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his native land (patridi), and among his relatives, and in his own house (oikia).’ Imagine the combination of sadness and pity he must have felt uttering these words before his closest friends and his family.” (pg. 116)

I can imagine his feelings; I just wish I had the courage to stand up for my beliefs. Instead I clam up. Jesus spoke the truth and overcame his desire to be loved by his kin; the truth was worth the sacrifice. Being human however, it had to hurt. The people of Nazareth, often like our own families, locked Jesus into their own preconceived notion of what they thought he should be and would not accept the idea that he had grown way beyond that.

So how do we get beyond this problem? What did Jesus do? Father Martin confessed his own problems with needing to be liked and the wise counsel of his spiritual director to meditate on the rejection at Nazareth and how Jesus carried on despite that rejection. Father Martin said that mediation freed him. Perhaps it can free us too.

I struggle at great deal with this as I am sure many of you do. It prevents me from being bold in my work, prevents excellence. It makes me cowardly, denying Jesus, hiding him from others. It makes my heart small. It’s become a second nature act that is hard to stop without true mindfulness of what it means. Fr. Martin called it a prison, one of our own making.

His last paragraph in this chapter gave me hope:

“ … the story of the Rejection at Nazareth enabled me to reject the need for approval. Now I worry far less about being loved or even liked. Jesus in Nazareth freed me from that particular prison. The tektōn’s freedom gave me the freedom to be free. As he said on that day, he had come to ‘proclaim release to the captives.’ Including, in a way, this one.”

To Ponder, Reflect, and Discuss:

  1. How do you feel when your family misunderstands you? How do you react?
  2. How do you respond when people criticize your faith? How do you feel when family members take issue with your religious beliefs?
  3. What can you derive from the Rejection of Nazareth that will help you overcome your need to be liked?

Feel free to comment on your own thoughts from this week’s reading, your impressions and reflections, and/or your answers to these questions.

Next week, we’ll cover Chapter 7: Galilee. For the complete reading schedule and information about our Book Club, visit the Jesus Book Club page.

Copyright 2014 Susan W. Bailey


About Author

Susan Bailey is the author of River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times (Ave Maria Press), and Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message (ACTA Publications), part of their Literary Portals to Prayer series. Along with her blogs Be as One and Louisa May Alcott is My Passion, Susan writes for the Diocese of Worcester newspaper, The Catholic Free Press.


  1. Because God has given us free will, our family members (like it or not) often reject our religious beliefs. In the case of parents , our grown children must find their own way and follow their unique spiritual journeys. We have laid the foundation and fulfilled our parental duties.

    • Funny you should be writing this because I just heard the same thing from one of my best friends over the weekend! I can’t hear it enough when I chastise myself for things my grown children are doing. My friend quoted from scripture something similar to what you wrote, she couldn’t remember where it came from but it sounded like it came from Proverbs. Anyone familiar with this verse. I’d love to find it.

  2. I have always had a strong need for approval. I am getting better with that, through prayer. Thank you for this reflection.
    As for rejection or criticism because of my religious beliefs, I feel sad for a number of reasons. I pray for them. I would love for them to have what I have, the joy of knowing I am loved by God.

  3. No rejection in this world really matters if we are accepted and loved by God. Jesus said mothers and daughters, sons and fathers would be at odds over belief in Christ. Our choice is clear, we either stand for eternal Truth, or we accept worldly ideals that temporarily bring us ‘acceptance’…only what’s done for Christ will last.

    I’m enjoying this book and others comments.

  4. Susan, when I read this it’s another reminder to remain very humble, especially in light of the work that we do to help others find the light of Christ’s love in their hearts. Jesus is the perfect role model for us in so many ways but this passage of the book reminds me that he too faced scorn and lack of acceptance from those closest to him. Did he cower or back down on his message as I’m tempted to do? No. But I believe he also exuded love — and that’s a tricky business. We can respond to diatribes from haters with our own diatribes, but I doubt that those words will be heard. Sometimes, our actions are the most effective proof of what we truly believe, and who we’re here to serve. I’m trying to remember that when folks attack the thoughts and beliefs I hold most dear, perhaps the most effective thing that I can do in that moment is to immediately pause in silent prayer for the person and also to be as loving and caring as possible. They have a deep hole in their hearts that can only be filled with the love of God. And in those moments, we can be an instrument of that love to the person, especially if they are in attack mode. Thanks for your great reflection!

    • Oh Lisa, what a great idea! I shall pray to be mindful of that idea and to remember to do it when the need comes for it. The tricky part is to remember to do it! The evil one fills my heart and head with such guilt for not taking on the diatribes and this is a deception. Prayer is always the right answer, backed up with silent deeds done with great love.

  5. I’ve had trouble understanding God’s message that you should leave your parents, your children, your spouse; indeed everything to follow Him. As I struggle with a situation right now, involving rejection on the part of one of our children, the message seemed to finally hit home. Our son, like the people of Nazareth, has locked his father into his own preconceived notion of what he thinks his father should be. He has turned his back on him and consequently on me just because I am part of the equation. It is a very difficult situation because neither one of them is humble enough to forgive and open their hearts to each other. I feel sad for them because they are wasting so much precious time nurturing anger and resentment when instead they should be accepting and loving each other as they are, both children of the same God. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be rejected by my son. I pray constantly for them and will never turn my back on them. However, I will not let them turn my faith away from God. This is a moment when God is telling me to come and follow Him so that He can reveal to me the path of Life, day by day and moment by moment. This trial is another gift from Him reminding me to rely on Him alone. Truly enjoyed reading this chapter!

    • My heart ached as I read your comment. I will pray that reconciliation will come to your family. I don’t know frankly how I would cope with such a rejection but at least we can turn to Jesus who, as a human being, did know rejection even enduring a kiss of betrayal from one he loved. May you be filled with his consolation during this difficult time.

  6. Ruth Hoerig on

    I was very impressed with the homily this past Sunday at Gesu Church in Milwaukee, by Fr. Tom Sweetster, S.J. He spoke about the martyrdom of Peter and Paul and asked us, “What are you afraid of?” My mind went to this very same problem – fear of being of rejected – to reject the need for approval. Father Tom gave three points about how to deal with any kind of fear: (1) acknowledge the fear;-be specific about what you are afraid of. (2) believe in Jesus’ presence always with us, (3) Carry it lightly.

    During this upcoming holiday in which we celebrate our freedom, I hope to pray more deliberately about The Principle and Foundation of the Spiritual Exercises given to us by St, Ignatius of Loyola. It seems to me that this is where I will find the most accurate definition of freedom. “To be so indifferent to created things that I do not prefer health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life.” Fear of rejection is part of the dishonor that I try to avoid. Oh, how much I long for this kind of freedom. Jesus is our model. It is only He that can get us there.

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