4th Ordinary Sunday (Year C)
First Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19 Second Reading: 1Corinthians 12:31-13:13 Gospel Reading: Luke 4:21-30
“NO PROPHET IS ACCEPTED IN HIS OWN NATIVE PLACE.”
Campbell Morgan was one of 150 young men who sought entrance to the Wesleyan ministry in 1888. He passed the doctrinal examinations, but then he had to face the trial sermon. In a cavernous auditorium that could seat more than 1,000 sat three ministers and 75 others who came to listen. When Morgan stepped into the pulpit, the vast room and the searching, critical eyes caught him up short. Two weeks later Morgan's name appeared among the l05 REJECTED for the ministry that year.
Jill Morgan, his daughter-in-law, wrote in her book, A Man of the Word, "He wired to his father the one word, 'Rejected,' and sat down to write in his diary: 'Very dark everything seems. Still, He knoweth best.' Quickly came the reply: 'Rejected on earth. Accepted in heaven. Dad.'"
In later years, Morgan said: "God said to me, in the weeks of loneliness and darkness that followed, 'I want you to cease making plans for yourself, and let Me plan your life.'"
Rejection is rarely permanent, as Morgan went on to prove. Even in this life, circumstances change, and ultimately, there is no rejection of those accepted by Christ.
The Gospel Reading of today from St. Luke is a continuation of last Sunday’s reading and concerns itself with the story of how Jesus was REJECTED by the people in his own hometown, although he had built up quite an early reputation outside of Nazareth.
Now, the beginning of today’s Gospel repeats some of last Sunday’s. Jesus, at the beginning of his public life, has delivered what today we would call his 'Manifesto' or ‘Mission Statement,’ using words of the prophet Isaiah. Today, as he speaks, Jesus says that these words are being fulfilled – in him. The Messiah they have been waiting for is now here in the person of Jesus. His Kingdom has begun to be realized in his works of healing, of reconciliation and liberation from evil powers.
At first the crowd is absolutely amazed at Jesus’ eloquence, amazed at his gracious words. But then they also ask - “Isn't this the son of Joseph?” Jesus, a carpenter and the son of a carpenter, can speak like this! What, then, are their expectations now of Jesus? Maybe, suggests Jesus, they are thinking - “Doctor, heal yourself.” Not in the sense of Jesus healing his own body, but in the sense of doing for his own community in Nazareth some of the things he was reputed to be doing in Capernaum and other parts of Galilee. But, Jesus says to them, “No prophet is accepted in his own native place.” This is a reference to the Old Testament prophets who were not accepted by their countrymen. And there is truth to that statement today still, especially for people with somewhat radical messages. It is a good example of 'familiarity breeding contempt.' Because Jesus had grown up among them, they thought they knew who he was. They were not ready to accept that he was something very much more.
Jesus then gives two striking examples from the Old Testament, one from Elijah and the other from Elisha, two prophets closely linked with the coming of the Messiah - Elijah was sent to help a poor Gentile widow in Sidon (a non-Jewish area) during a famine caused by three and a half years of drought. Why did the prophet go to her when there were so many Jewish widows in the same plight? Similarly, there were many lepers in Israel but Elisha was sent to Naaman, a Syrian general. The Syrians were the hated enemies of Israel. Jesus was being quite provocative in telling these stories. Both of those prophets indicated that God was favoring the Gentiles over the Jewish people, because the Jews of the time did not accept God and His Laws. This however, enrages the people and they are filled with fury. And, one rather shocking thing in today’s Gospel is that Jesus upset 'the apple cart of honor' so much, that his own people actually wanted to kill him. He was driven out of his hometown to be thrown over a cliff, but he escaped by passing through them unnoticed.
Here we see just how quickly things can change. It is possible that Luke has put two separate incidents in Nazareth together - the initial proclamation of the Kingdom - and a later visit when jealousy and doubt have begun to hold sway.
Here, Luke's purpose is not to twist the truth but, in fact, to highlight it. There can be no doubt but that the vision of reaching out to the poor - the blind - the oppressed is a fine one and no-one could take issue with that. However, when Jesus returns and finds that the faith he has met even among Gentiles is missing in his home-town, he does not hesitate to tell them. Their reaction is predictable - great hostility overflowing in the desire to rid themselves of him permanently.
Also, by putting the two incidents together at the beginning of his Gospel, St Luke prepares us for what is to come. From the outset of the Gospel, we detect the pattern of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus will indeed carry out his mission of preaching of the Kingdom of love; however, his works of compassion and tenderness will not prevent his being rejected - and, ultimately, faced with a gruesome death.
Now, when Jesus says in today’s Gospel that 'a prophet is never welcome in his own land,' he could quite probably have had Jeremiah in mind. Of all the prophets, perhaps, Jeremiah was the one that aroused the greatest hostility and he is universally seen as 'a prophet of doom.' Elsewhere in his book, he makes it clear that he did not want to be a prophet, but every time he tried to stop preaching the Word of God became a fire inside him and he could not help but speak it.
In the First Reading of today from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, we hear about the call of Jeremiah to be a prophet - “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.” Recording his call at the beginning of his Book Jeremiah shows, however, that he knew from the outset what the future was likely to hold for him. It seems that he was aware that, even before his birth, God had marked him out as a prophet.
Like Jesus, Jeremiah looks ahead to a ministry that will bring him into conflict with the powers that be - but, like Jesus, he has God’s promise that they will not be able to overcome him. He was called by God to be a “prophet to the nations.” He was to brace himself for action and stand up to the people, passing on God’s message to them. He was not to be alarmed at their presence. God would give him all the necessary strength to carry out his task. He will be like a “fortified city, a pillar of iron, and a wall of bronze” confronting people from the king to the poorest peasants. But he should have no illusions: “They will fight against you, but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you.”
In the Second Reading of today from his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul crowns his teaching on 'the gifts of the Spirit' and their purpose, in one of the most loved passages in the Scripture. Having spoken of the different spiritual gifts and their importance in building up the Church, St. Paul sets them in perspective. He holds that love is the perfection of all the gifts. The other gifts are vital to the up-building of the Church - but, one day, they will pass away; only faith, hope and love will remain.
Moreover, St. Paul reminds us that love – God’s love within us – is the foundation of our prophetic way of living. When we allow ourselves to be fully embraced by God’s love, then God’s love can overflow into the world around us. God’s love within us will show itself in our willingness to be patient and kind, our willingness to put others’ interests before our own, our willingness to put up with the faults and failings of others. We will be better able to control our anger and choose not to brood over injuries real or imagined. Because we believe that God is present and working in all the events of our day, we are better able to see the possibilities for good and better able to accept the challenges and disappointments of life with a peaceful heart.
God loves us immensely, and He has a plan for each of us. He has given us a share in Jesus’ ministry as prophet in our baptism. Because we are baptized, we are called to live in a prophetic way. Surely, what Jesus says to the people in the Gospel today, and what he says to his followers is not always comfortable. He always tries to stretch us, to extend our reach. And there is pain and even fear in us when that is done. If we truly follow Jesus, we definitely will be taken out of our comfort level. That is as true today as it was back then.
Again, Jesus warns us that 'prophets are not always welcomed and accepted,' so we shouldn’t be surprised when we aren’t. We must learn each day to choose to focus again on God’s ever-present, unconditional love and ask for the grace to respond faithfully by loving. Loving each other can be quite a challenge; but it is the central challenge of Jesus, which ties us into his mission – i.e. helping the poor, the disenfranchised, the outcast.
Finally, St. Luke ends today's Gospel passage with the words, “But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away” - beginning his journey from Nazareth that will lead him to Jerusalem. These are terrible words and let us pray that such a thing may never happen to us - that Jesus should walk right through us, that we should fail to recognize his presence among us, that we even reject him, so that he goes off without us, leaving us behind. It will not be he who has abandoned us; we will have rejected him. And he will never force himself on us. And this is the Good News of today.