“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.” Matthew 11:21–22
Chorazin and Bethsaida were Jewish towns that Jesus visited frequently to preach and to perform many “mighty deeds.” They were located just north of His city of residence, Capernaum. Tyre and Sidon were pagan coastal cities northeast of Chorazin and Bethsaida, in modern-day Lebanon, and were towns known for their immoral living. Though Jesus did not spend much time in those cities, He did visit them at times. During Jesus’ first recorded visit there, recall His encounter with the Syrophoenician woman who begged Him to heal her daughter (Matthew 15:21–28). The Gospel passage quoted above took place prior to Jesus making that journey.
Why was Jesus so harsh toward the towns He spent so much of His time in. Why did He rebuke Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum? To answer this, it’s important to remember that Jesus spent most of His time preaching to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.” In other words, His primary mission during His public ministry was to share the Gospel with those who were descendants of Abraham and had been entrusted with the Law of Moses, the teachings of the prophets and the liturgical rites. For that reason, Jesus not only preached with perfection to these people, He also did miracle after miracle. And though there were many who did believe in Him and became His disciples, there were many others who were indifferent or who flatly refused to believe in Him.
Today, Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum could be seen as symbols of those Catholics who were born and raised in the faith and were given good formation by their parents and others. Many parents whose children have gone astray from the faith wonder what they did wrong. But the truth is that even Jesus Himself was rejected, despite His perfect preaching, perfect charity and undeniable miracles. And the same happens today. There are many who, despite being raised within the holy faith given to us by Christ Himself, reject that faith and turn a blind eye to the Gospel and the Church.
Jesus’ rebuke of those towns should echo today in the minds of those who, despite being given so much in regard to a good upbringing, have rejected God. Of course, that rejection is not always absolute and total. More often, it is a rejection in degrees. First, the rejection comes in the form of missing Mass. Then moral compromises. Then a lack of faith. And eventually confusion, doubt and a complete loss of faith sets in.
If you are one who has started down the road of becoming more and more lukewarm in your faith, then the rebuke of these towns by Jesus should be understood to also be directed at you in love. “Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required…” (Luke 28:48). Therefore, to those who have been taught the faith well, much is expected. And when we fail to live up to that which is demanded of us by God out of love, a holy rebuke is exactly what we need.
Reflect, today, upon whether the rebuke Jesus issues toward these towns is also issued toward you. Have you been blessed with a good formation in the faith? If so, have you done all you can to help nourish that faith and grow in your love of God? Or have you allowed your faith to dim, to become lukewarm and to begin to wither and die? If you have been given much, have been raised in the faith and have been privileged with good examples in your life, then know God expects much of you. Answer that high calling that is given to you and respond to God with all your heart.
My passionate Jesus, You poured out Your heart and soul through Your preaching to the people of Israel. Although many accepted You, many others rejected You. I thank You for the privilege I have been given to hear Your holy Word preached to me. Help me to respond to You with all my heart so that I will be counted among those who listen and believe. Jesus, I trust in You.
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