31Jan 31/01. 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time

1st Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19

Jeremiah is commissioned by God, as a prophet

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” But you, gird up your loins; stand up and tell them everything that I command you. Do not break down before them, or I will break you before them. And I for my part have made you today a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall, against the whole land-against the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13 (or, shorter version: 13:4-13)

Paul’s hymn to love, as the highest virtue

But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Gospel: Luke 4:21-30

Jesus shares the fate of prophets, rejected by his own people

Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”

He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”

When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Worship and prejudice

The scene in the synagogue that Sabbath seems pretty disturbing; a people who have come for worship turn angry to the extent of intending to throw Jesus off a cliff. What is it that made them so angered? He had reminded them of a low point in their history, when God punished the people of Israel with a famine, but then saved a Gentile widow. Jesus had also reminded them of God’s mercy towards a Gentile named Naaman. Naturally his message was a shocker and just the opposite of they wanted to hear.

Some truths are often bitter. We too may be angered or agitated when someone (even a preacher?) tells us a truth that we don’t want to hear. Had Jesus glorified the Jews and told them that they were God’s exclusively privileged people, he would probably have received bouquets instead of brickbats, appreciation rather than criticism. But he chose to call a spade a spade.;In effect, Jesus declared that God has no favorites, that there are no privilege cardholders to receiving love and compassion, that all are equal shareholders of God’s love no matter who we are, where we come from and whatever our socio-economic status. We don’t earn divine favour by the titles we hold, but receive it freely from the unconditional love of God for us. In the second reading, St. Paul too speaks of the primacy of love.

What happened in the synagogue happens even today in some of our churches and communities. We may carry prejudices with us into our places of worship, and if we do, we shut our minds off to the message God wants to give us. Our prejudice can be against the very priest or preacher who addresses us, against some in the congregation, the choir, the readers or other church helpers, or against the hierarchic Church as such. A prejudiced mind will never sit comfortably in Church and will never find fulfillment in worship or carry the gospel message home.

In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi wrote that during his student days he began to read the Gospels seriously and even considered embracing Christianity. He believed that in the teachings of Jesus he could find the solution to the caste system that was dividing the people of India. So one Sunday he decided to attend services at a nearby church and talk to the minister about becoming a Christian. When he entered the sanctuary, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go worship with his own people. Gandhi left the church and never returned. “If Christians have caste differences also,” he said, “I might as well remain a Hindu.” That usher’s prejudice not only betrayed Jesus but also turned a person away from knowing Jesus more closely.

Eckhart Tolle, a spiritual writer, wrote of how prejudice can degrade another human person “Prejudice of any kind implies that you are identified only with the thinking mind. It means you don’t see the other human being anymore, but only your own concept of that human being. To reduce the aliveness of another human being to a concept is already a form of violence.” Do we take prejudices into our place of worship? Are we prejudiced against individuals or any community? If so, we turn to Jesus for healing.

(with thanks to Fr. Adolf Washington)


To draw a picture of God

A young girl was bent purposefully over her copybook, her pencil poised in a clear declaration of intent. When her mother asked what she was doing, she said she was drawing a picture.” Of what?” the mother asked. “Of God,” was the answer. “But you can’t draw a picture of God,” her mother declared. “No one knows what God looks like.” “Well they will, when I have finished drawing,” replied the girl, nodding her head.

In a sense we could say that Jesus Christ drew for us a picture of what God is like. And because he drew it in his own body, soul and spirit the picture as the reality. Our gospel reading points to a essential element of the reality that is God. God is sovereign; he is not subject to our caprice or prejudice. He is the a God of all peoples; he belongs to all classes; no one is excluded from his love.

Jesus drew that picture when he bluntly rebuked his townspeople in Nazareth for their rejection of his message. He pointed to unlearned lessons of the past and so indicated that his own mission too would embrace the Gentiles. And so it was. There is about Jesus and his actions a certain universalism. His disciples come from a range of backgrounds; his mission is weighted in favour of the poor and disadvantaged, yet he dines with the powerful and wealthy; his healing ministry benefits both the poor an the powerful, Gentiles and Jews. It is clear that all people from all walks of life and from all nations will be the recipients of God’s saving message.

Yet Jesus’ universalism is never bland. There is always a strong hint of challenge about it. It is never a mere acceptance of the way things and people are. It is a challenge to people to be what God wants them to be his image and likeness; and to live in justice, love and peace. So Jesus will reprimand his disciples for their overweening ambition; and he will constantly call on those who are rich and powerful to become like himself and to be of service to the powerless and poor.

The people of Nazareth felt that Jesus should look after them first. Some writers say that the proverb Physician, heal yourself” is much the same as the phrase Charity begins at home.” What they failed to understand was that the gospel Jesus brought was not a gospel of privilege; insisting on preferential treatment, they failed to see that with God charity begins wherever human need is found and wherever people have faith enough to receive it. Those who must hear the world of God are those with ears to hear.

The challenge for us is to draw, in our own lives, a picture of God that is in line with what Jesus gave us. A picture in which salvation is always gift but make authentic in our daily living. A picture in which salvation has to do with all of our living. A picture in which salvation is for all people everywhere in God’s time. When we have finished drawing our picture, let’s hope that God recognises himself in it.

 


DON’T WE NEED PROPHETS?

«A great prophet has arisen among us» the people shouted in villages of Galilee, surprised by Jesus’ words and actions. However this isn’t what happens in Nazareth when he appears among his neighbors as the one anointed as Prophet of the poor. Jesus observes first their admiration, and later their rejection. He’s not surprised. He reminds them of a well-known saying: «In truth I tell you, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country». Later, when they throw him out of the town and try to do away with him, Jesus abandons them. The narrator says that «he passed straight through the crowd and walked away». Nazareth is left without the Prophet Jesus.

Jesus is and acts like a prophet. He isn’t a temple priest or a teacher of the law. His life is marked by the prophetic tradition of Israel. In contrast to the kings and priests, the prophet isn’t named or anointed by anyone else. His authority comes from God, insisting on encouraging and guiding the beloved people with God’s Spirit, when the political and religious leaders don’t know how to do that. It’s not by accident that Christians confess a God incarnated as a prophet.

The marks of the prophet are unmistakable. In the middle of an unjust society where the powerful seek their welfare, silencing the suffering of those who mourn, the prophet dares to read and to live reality from the perspective of God’s compassion for the least. His whole life becomes an «alternative presence» that criticizes injustice and calls for conversion and change.

On the other hand, when religion itself gets comfortable with an unjust order and its interests no longer respond to God’s interests, the prophet shakes up our indifference and self-deception, criticizes the illusion of eternity and absolutes that threaten every religion, and remembers all those that God alone saves. His presence introduces a new hope since he invites us to think about the future from the perspective of God’s liberty and love.

A Church that ignores the prophetic dimension of Jesus and his followers, runs the risk of being left without prophets.

  • We bother ourselves a lot about the lack of priests and we pray for vocations to the priestly ministry. Why don’t we pray that God raise up prophets? Don’t we need them? Don’t we feel the need of raising up the prophetic spirit in our communities?
  • A Church without prophets: doesn’t it run the risk of walking deaf to God’s calls to conversion and change?
  • A Christianity without prophetic spirit: isn’t it in danger of remaining controlled by order, tradition and the fear of God’s newness?         (J. Pagola)

 


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