4th. Sunday of the Year (C)
(Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19; 1st. Corinthians 12:31–13:13; Luke 4:21-30)
People of God, in our second reading today taken from St. Paul’s first letter to his converts at Corinth, we heard one of the most famous, the most important, and the most beautiful texts of the New Testament: a text that is famous among Christians above all because of its fundamental doctrinal importance, whilst among unbelievers and nominal Christians it is famous because of its beauty.
We who are disciples of Jesus know that the devil always seeks to camouflage his evil designs into something apparently good by ‘covering’ them with a pseudo-righteousness which is nothing but the fruit of his lying lips. Today, many in our modern consumer society -- including far too many formerly faithful but now lapsed Christians -- are still be able to bring to mind those words of St. Paul about the supreme worth and beauty of charity, which they prefer to call “love” and, at times, despite years of absence from, or almost total ignorance of Church life and the Catholic Faith, they will tell you in a triumphant tone and with crushing emphasis that “love” is what Christianity should be all about, not religion. And of course, though using the words of Scripture -- “love” is the word used in our popular bible translations today -- they distort the Catholic meaning of those words. For example, when using that word “love” some relatively few mean nothing more than “being nice to”, “never hurting” people; whereas others, the vast majority, intend the word to include all the sexual excesses and aberrations popular and possible -- provided they are not considered to be criminal -- in today’s no-religion, permissive, and politically-correct modern western society. Religion, which for the true Christian is the God-given means and channel of learning and expressing supreme love for or charity towards God, has no true significance, according to their way of thinking, being concerned with merely ritual and rites, public pomp and posturing.
Let us, however, who want to be whole-hearted and obedient disciples of Jesus and children of Mother Church, never mix up our apostolic faith and practice with such ‘fashionable morality’.
You will well remember how the Apostle Peter did – out of his own personal love for Jesus -- once speak to the Lord in an overly-worldly way and, we are told, Jesus turned to him immediately and said:
Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men. (Mark 8:33)
Now, don’t all pseudo-Catholics and all lapsed non-believers yet politically correct people assure us that true Christianity ought to be all about loving people, “not hurting” anyone? What do you think: was that a “nice” thing for anyone -- let alone Jesus Himself -- to say? Do you think those words of Jesus “hurt” Peter? Of course they did, because they were meant to hurt him, in order to heal and protect him. The fact is, however, that modern humanists who often make use of Christian words, do not really care about Jesus or His teaching: they don’t seek, first and foremost, to be His true disciples, above all, they want to be personally popular and successful on the contemporary stage And so, when they use the words of Jesus, they do so only in such a way as to win arguments and gain public approval, not to proclaim the saving truth for which Jesus died.
Therefore, let us now turn to our other Scripture readings today and try to learn more about Jesus: His teaching, His attitudes, and His purposes.
We are told in the Gospel reading that, after reading from the Scriptures on the Sabbath in His local synagogue at Nazareth:
Jesus began to say to them, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." And all spoke highly of Him, and were amazed at the gracious words came from His mouth. And they asked, "Isn’t this the son Joseph?"
But then, Jesus immediately continued, saying:
Surely you will quote Me this proverb, 'Physician, cure yourself! 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.
That, however, was only a beginning for He then went on to quote examples from the Scriptures where Israel had not been found worthy of a miracle, and soon:
All the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things.
How deep was their indignation, how wild their rage! They even went so far as to:
Rise up and thrust Him out of the town; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, that they might hurl Him down headlong.
People of God, one of our greatest failings today in our Western society, which formerly was proud to call itself Christian, is hypocrisy: it seeks to portray itself as being good without God, multi-cultural, but for the requirements of business barons and ambitious politicians rather than in accordance with the wishes of the indigenous people, and without having any serious appreciation of, or will to make right accommodation for, religious convictions that have formed our people over many centuries. Many of those who are influential do, indeed, still take up vaguely-remembered Christian concepts and teachings, they may even seem to quote Jesus, nevertheless they seek but the esteem of men; they obsequiously bend the knee to political correctness but will not bow their head in faith or accept the yoke of obedience to the Word of God.
We, however, who want to be true disciples of Jesus, must always remember the words of St. Paul heard in our second reading as he taught and intended them:
Earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.
That greater gift, that more excellent way which, as you all know, is at the heart of our Christian faith, is the way of love: but note, such love is not mere social niceness, not mere human charm, not political agreeableness, and most certainly it is not an authoritative expression for popularly acceptable sexuality, it is Christian love, a sharing in God’s own love, and for that reason it is most properly called CHARITY.
Christian charity is, I say, a sharing in Jesus’ love for the God the Father, and then, for His sake, love of the children of God, that is, of our neighbour, a love that seeks to help our neighbour in the ways of God. Christian charity is love of God even to the forgetfulness of self and to the scorning of worldly popularity, for it is not possible to put God first sincerely, whilst, in practice, seeking worldly esteem and success.
St. Paul assures us that, from this changing world, we can take with us only what will abide to eternity, that is:
Let us, however, consider closely what he recommends and what he warns us against.
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
All the gifts Paul mentions there are sublime gifts of themselves … the Corinthians were wanting wonderful blessings … such prophecy, such understanding, such faith …. indeed, you might go on to say, such love as to bestow all one’s good to the poor (like St. Anthony and many other great saints), such charity as to give one’s body to be burnt (like St. Laurence). However, in aspiring to such gifts and graces, the Corinthians were being motivated by a devilishly hidden, ‘covered-over’ pride: for, wanting to be personally noticed, publicly praised, esteemed and honoured in the Church, they were not truly seeking to love God supremely.
Paul therefore tries to turn them in the right direction:
Earnestly desire the best gifts. I show you a more excellent way.
He guides them to charity. But here notice that because of their penchant for pride he recommends the lesser expressions of charity first, those demanded by the second aspect of the great commandment: love of neighbour, a derivative form and expression of charity towards God Himself:
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
With love for our neighbour, and for the love of God, that is, in the fullness of Christian charity, let us ‘put on the whole armour of God’ as St. Paul recommended, since the enemies of Christ … and many ‘nice’ and ‘respectable’ people around us are indeed enemies of Christ, virulent in their attacks on Jesus and His Church in our times.
We should also recall and take to heart God’s words to Jeremiah, the great prophet who most closely foreshadowed Jesus in the contradictions and contempt he had to endure in order to remain faithful to God and help save his people:
My people have forsaken Me; therefore, prepare yourself and arise and speak to them all that I command you. Do not be dismayed before their faces, lest I dismay you before them; for behold, I have made you this day a fortified city and an iron pillar, and bronze walls against the whole land (and) against the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you to deliver you.
Dear friends in Christ, steel and sympathy, both of them, are inherent to and absolutely essential for true Christian love, a living offshoot of Divine Charity. Is your ‘love’ worldly: all sympathy and softness professing not Catholic and Christian truth but worldly conformity which, holding you in thrall, promises to assure your public ‘acceptability’ and personal satisfaction? In other words, have you lost that steel demanded by Jesus of all His disciples and exemplified so strikingly in His own visit to, and words in, the home town that wanted to own Him?