4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading 1. Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19
Reading II. I Corinthians 12: 31--13:13
Gospel. Luke 4: 21-30 (the son of Joseph?)
Today's first reading is from the beginning of the book of the Prophet Jeremiah. It is Jeremiah's call to be a prophet:
But do you gird your loins;
stand up and tell them
all that I command you.
Jeremiah is going to be a prophet not in the sense that he is going to foretell the future but in the sense that he is going to remind the people of their past and their covenant with God, and bring them back into a true relationship with their God. How often have they forgotten that they are a chosen people, a people with a mission to bring all the nations to God. Jeremiah is warned that it will not be an easy task. His own people, Judah's kings and princes, priests and people, will fight against him.
This reading sets the scene for the continuation of Luke's gospel account of the return of Jesus to the synagogue in His home town of Nazareth which we began last week. The first verse of today's gospel reading actually repeats the ending of last week's reading. Remember, Jesus had read a passage from Isaiah about the Lord's anointed or chosen one and then said, "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing."
Today's reading gives us the peoples' reaction. In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, urged his followers to try to visualize the scenes of the gospel, even see them in their minds as if they were part of the scene itself. Let's put ourselves in this scene. We're in the church, we're impressed with the eloquent words of Jesus but then we remember that He is only one of us. "Isn't this the son of Joseph?" Maybe we're thinking, "Wait a minute, who does this guy think he is?"
Jesus hears and says, "no prophet is accepted in his own native place." More than that he tells us that in the past other prophets had been rejected by us, and could only do their healing among foreigners, even enemies. "There were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian." Israel, Syria, the names are still with us today in the most strife torn region of the world. Naaman himself was a Syrian warlord.
OK, we're still in the scene and we can imagine our reaction. "When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury." We surge along with the crowd as we drive Him to the outskirts of the little hill town to throw Him over a cliff. However, He passes through our midst and goes away, leaving His home town of Nazareth behind.
St. Paul himself was no stranger to angry mobs. Before his conversion he had participated in the stoning of St. Stephen, the first martyr. He was on the road to Damascus to persecute the Christians there when he encountered the risen Christ and received his own call to prophesy--to bring the gospel to all nations. In today's second reading we find that he is finding it no easier than Jeremiah.
He had established a Christian community in the leading Greek city of Corinth but after leaving them to continue on his missionary journeys, he has heard that the have begun to bicker among themselves. In the last two weeks we got a sense of what they were arguing about. Some felt that they were better than others--that they had received greater spiritual gifts. Christians of Jewish or Greek ancestry could not put away their traditional hostility to each other. So Paul has had to remind them that all our gifts or abilities come from Christ, that we all are part of His Mystical Body, and that we all have a role to play in the mission of Christ.
Even today there are many who don't like Paul especially when he tells women to be silent in Church or reminds them to be subservient to their husbands. We'll have to talk about those remarks some other day but for now it is enough to say that the same Paul wrote in today's reading the most beautiful and eloquent words that have ever been written on the subject of Love.
We're in the season of love, the time of the year when we celebrate St. Valentine's day. We know that our culture today has cheapened and debased the gift of love. We only have to watch TV to see that our culture is seeking after the lesser gifts. Paul tells us to "strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts." He boils them down to three:
So faith, hope, love remain, these three;
but the greatest of these is love."
What is love?
Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, it is not pompous,
it is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
Let's hope that we don't share the fate of the crowd at Nazareth when Love "passed through the midst of them and went away."