4th. Sunday (Year C)
(Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19; 1st. Corinthians 12:31 – 13:13; Luke 4:21-30)
In our first reading it would seem that Jeremiah was somewhat frightened on being given the role of prophet by the Lord:
The word of the Lord came to me, saying: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I dedicated you; a prophet to the nations I appointed you."
And, despite his protestations of youth:
Ah, Lord GOD! I do not know how to speak. I am too young!"
he needed to be most authoritatively told:
Prepare yourself; stand up and tell them all that I command you. For I am the one Who today makes you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of bronze, against the whole land: against Judah’s kings and princes, its priests and the people of the land.
You can appreciate therefore the traditional Catholic conviction that when God chooses someone for a special work of whatever sort – and despite their own possible misgivings and fears -- He always prepares and enables them to do that for which He is choosing them.
Let us now turn our attention to Jesus Himself coming to a public awareness and acknowledgement of the task for which He had been sent by His Father:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to bring glad tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free; and to proclaim a year acceptable of the Lord.
But Jesus’ Personal understanding of His calling must surely be judged not simply by noting the words of Scripture which, after having read them, Jesus declared that they were being fulfilled that very moment, but also by the way He then set about to prepare Himself for the work before Him.
We are told that, on ending the reading from the prophet, Jesus then went on to speak in such a way that:
When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove Him out of the town, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl Him down headlong. But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.
What a contrast with those prophetic words He had just read!
But make no bones about it, People of God, Jesus did not inspire such anger and resentment by a slip of the tongue so to speak, or in an outburst of sudden anger or irritation. Not at all! He appears to have been deliberately provocative for a reason befitting Him Who as Lord was coming to His own and finding them manifestly not as He would have them:
Surely you will quote Me this proverb, 'Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in Your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.'" And He said, "Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place.”
To impugn in such a way the personal pique of those present might have been deemed enough, but no, Jesus went straight on to infuriate them further by attacking their national pride:
Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was closed for three and a half years, and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent but only to a widow in Zarephath, in the
land of Sidon. Again, 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.
Once more, I want you to contrast the peace of that gentle mission of comfort and salvation, foretold and expressed in those prophetic words accepted and acknowledged by Jesus, with this deliberate ‘taking on’ of those of His hearers whose personal pique had led them to overtly observe, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?”, before then going on to bluntly accuse His hearers as a whole for their excessive national pride as Israelites as distinct from what should have been a humble awareness of their true glory as a People chosen and prepared by God to hear, reverence, and respond to, His most holy Word.
How are such contrasting, indeed apparently contradictory, attitudes in Our Lord to be reconciled? For reconciled they must be if we are to have a true understanding and appreciation of Our Saviour, His work for us, and our duties in His service.
Such a reconciliation is not often sought because the problem is too frequently swept under the carpet so to speak -- as for example, in this case -- by ignoring the living activity of Jesus Himself and over-emphasizing the prophetic vision. Today, it is commonly imagined that people ought to be cajoled by fellowship and sympathy into trying-out some version of Christianity or perhaps even Christian Catholicism to test it -- as it were for comfort and fit -- rather than their being made aware of the privilege of being called and offered the opportunity to give themselves in self-surrender and gratitude to the inspiration of God’s promises of forgiveness and fulfilment together with the challenge of walking daily with Jesus, along His way of the Cross, in the power of His most Holy Spirit.
Jesus always maintained the comprehensive attitude: His words and actions could be hard as well as gentle: He would help but never cajole, He wanted obedience not popularity; for He had come to redeem not to excuse, to gently raise human beings above their present limitations and
weaknesses – call to mind His dealings with Jeremiah recorded for us in our first reading -- not to smother their aspirations or paralyse their efforts by oodles of very human sympathy.
I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! (Luke 12:49)
Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's enemies will be those of his household.' Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. (Matthew 10:34-39)
Holiness in Jesus was absolutely and sublimely serious: not to be manifested by carefully chosen and publicly appreciable and acceptable tokens such as sympathetic gestures or emotional words; for Him holiness was simply and solely, totally and wholly, Personal: divine love, burning charity towards His Father, expressed on earth by His absolute dedication to His Father’s glory and the fulfilment of His Father’s will for our salvation. We, however, so very often, in order to fit Jesus into the weakness of our understanding and the flabbiness of our presentation of holiness restrict the supreme fullness of His work and words to what is easily digestible by all; popular sensitivities must not be offended, worldly comfort and harmony should not in any way be disturbed.
Today, as St. Paul declared:
We know in part and we prophesy in part;
however, we do this, not as a result of our innocent and truly human inadequacy before the sublimely awesome yet wondrous reality of God, as confessed by Paul, but knowingly and
wilfully because we too often seek for what is ultimately worldly not heavenly, and this procedure is supremely exemplified by the popular use and almost ‘canonization’ of the word ‘love’ originally used to translate that other, more Christian, word: ‘charity’. Charity is divine, being the life-flow between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We, in baptism and confirmation receive it as a gift from God, a share in His way of loving, a share enabling us live as His children, to form one Family to the glory of His Name, in the likeness of Jesus by the power of the Spirit. Our understanding of this Gift of Charity, however, has become twisted and demeaned by repeated and increasingly cheap use of the translation, ‘love’, a word that should be supremely honourable indeed as shown in Paul’s description of it – as caritas, charity -- in our second reading, but one which is blatantly open to and available for the blasphemous justification of all kinds of degrading lust and licence which are essentially unchristian.
People of God, the devil once entered into open combat with Jesus in the desert after He had received John’s baptism in the Jordan: that battle the devil lost and he never forgot the experience, which is why he never enters into open conflict with Jesus in the Church. However, he is still and always the enemy and the deceiver, and so he prefers to have Jesus proclaimed partially, insinuating here and omitting there, always and in every way trying -- as the deceiver and liar that he is – to lead Christians astray first of all, that he might ultimately destroy them. Today he continues his insinuations and in that way seeks to destroy the image of Jesus in mankind by hiding the fullness of the glory of the Lord or the majesty of the Son of Man in favour of a sugary, plaster-cast, likeness meant to temporarily indulge human weaknesses at the cost of blunting mankind’s divine potentialities. And his most useful supporters are contemporary former Christians and government members seeking to justify – by their use of Christian terminology -- themselves and their policies which promote by means of ‘ersatz’ goodness (there is no right and wrong, no power of evil, everything open and subject to human judgement) their own desire to continue in popularity and power; and also all those of learning
who know so much about things and so little about themselves, who know so much about the experience of life and so little about its ultimate purpose, value, and fulfilment that they think themselves able and justified to meddle in and with it.
Today, People of God, we need to remember the words of God addressed to Jeremiah:
They will fight against you, but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you –oracle of the LORD.
Those are words suited to our situation today.
We are called to live in Mother Church in such a way as to be able to drink deeply of the new wine that is hers in abundance; for our destiny as Catholics and Christians in this world is not of this world, since its ultimate fulfilment will be an eternal sharing in heavenly reality and divine fulfilment … in Jesus, by the Spirit, for the Father. Our ultimate destiny is the holiness of sharing in Divine Charity for eternity. Today, it is popularly thought, that holiness is some optional extra for Christians, that needs to be popularized and promoted -- as being, on the whole, easy and rewarding -- when dealing with people who have difficulty understanding how what is intangible and invisible can be both truly real, and worth-their-while making a serious effort to attain it.
We have, therefore, as St. Paul said, to learn adult ways:
When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child, when I became a man, I put aside childish things;
and this we can do only by looking once again at the whole Jesus. We must not allow ourselves to look at Him through the world’s eyes which only see what they are wanted to see. We must see the fullness of Him and love Him in that fullness: gentle and strong, understanding and demanding, inviting and rejecting; totally devoted to us and totally opposed to the reality of sin.
We must seek Him in the whole of the Scriptures not just in some few selected and popular passages or quotes in the national press; we must understand Him in line with the fullness of Mother Church’s witness to Him, and serve Him according to the Spirit we received in baptism, not yielding to the clamour of undisciplined human nature or the propensities of the sinful world.
Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” So they said to Him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the One He sent.” (John 6:27–29)
Then we shall know fully, as we are fully known.