"Wait! Is that what the verse actually says?" I asked myself. Half a minute later I was reading the original Greek text and there it was, in plain Greek: "He did not work many mighty deeds there..." Hmm. I still felt something was missing. So I looked up the same episode in the gospel of Mark (Mk 6:1-6), and there I found the verse "So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there" (v.5).
Now I felt better -- I hadn't been imagining things. So I began reflecting on the difference between Matthew's "he did not" and Mark's "he could not" do his mighty deeds. Interestingly, both writers use the Greek word dynamis, "mighty deeds" as a synonym for "miracles." But the noun dynamis itself simply means "power" (as in "For thine is the kingdom and the power...") So here we have a picture of Jesus, the Powerful One, who, according to Mark, is powerless to do his works of power; Mark tells us that he is "not able" to do the powerful miraculous things he wants to do for the people in his town.
I started asking myself, "Are there things that make it difficult or even impossible for Jesus to work his works of power in my own life?" I made a quick list of some pretty impressive impediments that I put in the way when Jesus wants to work wonders in my life, when he wishes to transform me into my true self, a totally new person. The first obstacle on the list was fear.
Sheltering in Place
This scene is an accurate image of some people's way of being in the world: their goal is self-protection. Nobody gets in. That way they can't get hurt, they're invulnerable. In psychological terms you could say that they are avoiding "intimacy." This is, of course not a very life-giving kind of existence because we are not made for isolation but for love. We're made in the image of a God who is love itself, a Trinitarian God, i.e.a God who is relationship. And this God created you and me in that same image and likeness. Piling up furniture at the door is a fine strategy in an active shooter situation, but it's not a great model as a way of living.
"Don't Be Afraid"
On the list of things that keep Jesus from working miracles in my life, the first one was fear. Fear of letting go of all those protections that I've built up over the years, those external, visible, measurable activities and attitudes that define me for most people. What would happen if I let go of my "external" self, letting all those things drop away? That's scary! I would be left vulnerable, with no familiar shields to hide behind. "And the Lord was unable to work any mighty deeds there."
But, as I looked at all those externals that I use to define my public self (teaching, celebrating mass, writing books and blogposts, and so forth), I realized that my closest friends and family members, people who really love me, they don't love me because of any of those externals. They just love me. When I let my guard down and share with someone who I really am deep inside (the Latin word for deep inside is intimus, which gives us our English "intimacy") then I'm doing exactly what Jesus needs in order to work wonders for me: I'm leaving myself open for a deep, personal, trusting relationship of intimacy with him. I'm buying into the paschal mystery, in which everything, including sin and all kinds of evil, are, like Christ's crucifixion and death, transformed into salvation and new life.
Prayers and masses, sacrifices and acts of obedience to the divine commandments cannot and do not take the place of surrendering myself into the Lord's loving embrace, of trusting that everything that happens in my life, whether pleasant or unpleasant, is somehow part of the Lord's loving plan for me. It's always about love.
Little by little I've been removing the pieces of furniture that are blocking the door. The next time He knocks I hope I'll be able to say "Come in, Lord!"