Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time - Cycle C
1st Reading: Jeremiah 1: 4-5, 17-19
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm: 71: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 15-17
2nd Reading: 1st Corinthians 12: 31-13: 13
Gospel: Luke 4: 21-30
In the early years of my time in the RCIA at St. Stanislaus we would hold receptions to welcome the new candidates and catechumens who had just gone through the Rite of Acceptance. These were held 3-4 times a year and they always featured the famous RCIA punch and donut holes. (No doubt, these treats were partially responsible for the large attendance.) While I always loved the donut holes, one of my favorite parts of these rituals was watching a young boy named Liam sneak as many donut holes as he could without getting caught by his parents. Liam was the son of one of our team members and the source of constant entertainment when he was a young boy. His parents kept him on a healthy diet, but that didn’t stop him from using his stealth skills to sneak up on the table in the small hall and stuff donut holes in his mouth. It was hilarious and makes me smile just thinking back on the moment.
Those of us on the team remembered with Liam’s mom announced she was pregnant with Liam. We were with her through her pregnancy, celebrated his birth and watched him grow up right before our eyes. Liam was precocious and always fun to watch.
How would I feel if one day, I was sitting at Mass, and our very own Liam got up, read the passage from Isaiah, closed the book and said, “Today, this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” Liam is a great kid, but it is an alarming, imaginary scene. Just as alarmed as those who heard Jesus, the carpenter’s son say the exact same words. It’s hard to imagine someone I know with this authority, gift and powerful presentation. There is only one thing harder to imagine; that I could be the one with the gift, authority and powerful presentation. We are both proclaimers and hearers of the Word of God.
Why did Jesus meet with such great opposition from the people of his own hometown? What made them so angry? As Luke tells us in the gospel, at first the people thought well of Jesus. They thought, “This is wonderful; he is one of us and so he will certainly have more concern for us; he will stay with us and do for us all the marvelous things we have heard about him.” In a self-centered concern for their own good, they thought that they should be the particular and special recipients of God’s goodness. But then Jesus reminded them that long-ago God had sent the prophet Elijah to help a Gentile widow and the prophet Elisha to help a Gentile leper even though there were many Jewish widows and Jewish lepers in Israel. In other words, He was telling them that He had not been sent just to them, just for their good, but that, like the prophet Jeremiah, God had appointed Him a prophet to the nations, that the saving word of God was not restricted to them but was for all. And when they heard this – that Jesus would leave them, would go beyond them to the despised Gentiles – they could not accept it. They thought that God was their God, that God’s word had been spoken primarily for them. They could not bear the truth that God’s saving word moves freely anywhere God chooses. They could not understand that God’s saving word was for Jews and non-Jews – for all alike.
At first, we might find this gospel story strange; but there are many Christians – and many Catholics among them – who have this same attitude – this same, self-centered concern for their own spiritual good, as if Jesus must be primarily and especially, and even exclusively, for them. There are many who reject any message that says that non-Catholics and non-Christians are equally saved by the saving grace of Christ. There is always the temptation to think that God is uniquely on our side because we are in the church and keep the rules, while Jesus is telling us that God is on the side of the poor and the oppressed, no matter who they are or where they are. Many do not understand that the saving word of God is for Christian and non-Christian – for all.
In our second reading for today, Paul shows us the way that surpasses all others –the way of love; the way that surpasses all laws and rules and regulations, all institutional structures, all religious doctrines and practices. The way of love – not a safe, comfortable love limited to those we really, really like, but a love that reaches out beyond ourselves in real, active, responsible concern for others. Paul’s words on love are indeed beautiful and lyrical, but the gospel story of Jesus shows us that that love expressed in real action on behalf of the poor and the outcast – that love is hard and difficult and demanding and a suffering love. That love is Christian love.
In our moments of fervor, we might respond wholeheartedly and answer “yes” to the word of God. But in reality, that “yes” is seldom uncomplicated. Even those who heard Jesus were first amazed at His words and then later tried to throw Him over a cliff. They turned too quickly from their initial appreciation of Him.
So many times, we actually behave in ways we wish we would not. Or what we really want to do, we fail to accomplish. In other situations, we might stand in awe of others and yet turn against them because we are frightened by the power they exert, power we cannot understand much less control. In our desire to be accepted, how often do we adjust what we say to what our audience will accept? Our motives and our reactions are really quite complicated, even if our desire to be faithful is honest and straightforward. As important as it is to have keen insight, total commitment and courage, the greatest response to the challenge presented us by the word of God is love. We must remember that however we do react, our response, must be born out of love.
All of us struggle to hear and respond to God’s word in our lives. This Sunday, we are confronted with the reality that we are not always going to like what we hear in God’s word… the message. We might not like the messenger either. But the Word always takes us beyond where we are (or where we want to go.) It is the very word which questions our status quo and asks us to give up our wills and embrace God’s will. As those baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, being faithful to God’s word always means dying to self for the sake of others. Whether you are the hearer or the proclaimer.
What is a prophet?
How often do we want to keep our “good news,” our blessings to ourselves rather than sharing them with the outcasts?
How would you have reacted had you lived in Nazareth and heard Jesus teaching?