4th Sunday in Ordinary Time–C– February 3, 2019 Br. Daniel
[Jer 1:4-5, 17-19 ; 1Cor 12:31-13:13 (or 13:4-13) ; Lk 4:21-30]
Last Sunday we heard the Gospel reading about Jesus at the beginning of his public life, when He visited the synagogue of His home town Nazareth and read a passage from the prophet Isaiah. That OT passage contained an announcement, put in the mouth of the Messiah who was still unknown in Isaiah’s time. In the text quoted by Jesus this enigmatic person said that God’s Spirit had ‘anointed’ him to ‘bring glad tidings to the poor’. These ‘tidings’ consisted of a whole program of social justice especially to the most vulnerable. When Jesus had finished that text, ‘the eyes of all in the synagogue’ were ‘fixed on Him’ and one could feel the tension. Then Jesus said: ‘Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled, even while you are listening’. That same proclamation, which concluded last week’s Gospel reading, is also the opening passage of today’s reading. So here we have a continuing story and we are curious to learn the reaction of the audience.
First we have to keep in mind also the passage of last week’s reading, where it was said that Jesus, ‘in the power of the Spirit’, began His public mission in Galilee, where ‘he taught in their synagogues and waspraised by all’. Jesus had already become famous. And the first reaction of his fellow citizens in Nazareth appears to be in accordance with the widespread approval His teaching was met with all over the region.
Immediately after Jesus’ proclamation that the Scripture text He just read ‘is fulfilled today’, St. Luke relates that ‘all expressed their approval and wondered at the words of grace that came from His mouth’. But then – even in the very same sentence – the Evangelist already refers to some emerging skepticism: ‘Isn’t this the son of Joseph?’. This is humanly understandable. As a matter of fact, what Jesus announces is infinitely more than just a program of social justice. What He proclaims is: ‘Today, at this very moment while you are listening to me, the ancient prophecy about the Anointedof God, about the long-awaited Messiahwho is to come to restore everything, this joyful tiding from the whole of our Scriptures and the entire Sacred Tradition has been fulfilled, here and now!’
The reaction of the public is understandably ambiguous. On the one hand, in their hearts, at first, they are deeply impressed by the ineffable gracewhich is undeniably radiating from this young man, who just came back from the desert where, thanks to the power of that same grace, he had defeated the powers of evil. On the other hand, their critical common sense refuses to buy that this man, Jesus, whom they think they know so well as ‘the son of Joseph’, should actually be the Messiahof God, that is, the fulfillmentof the whole Law and all the Prophets.
But Jesus, on his side, challenges them even more. Instead of meeting their resistance to fully believe what’s happening before their eyes, He alludes to possible critical questions they might be harboring in silence. And then, He mentions some examples of OT outsiders, like a widow in Zarephath and Naaman of Syria, who – just by following their hearts – readily believed where Israel’s own people had refused to give credit.
That’s the decisive moment. Instead of accepting the challenge of spontaneously listening to their hearts and embracing the extraordinary grace that is present through the young man they think they know so well, they instantly harden their hearts, take offence at Jesus’ examples to illustrate the lacking faith of his own people, and they explode with fury. The situation becomes even dangerous. But Jesus, filled with the same enigmatic ‘power of the Spirit’ with which He had been led to the desert to struggle with the devil, passes ‘through the midst of them’, unharmed, and with natural authority. His hour has not yet come.
What is that mysterious ‘power of the Spirit’ enabling Jesus to do so? ‘God is Love’, says St. John (1Jn4:8, 16). And in the second reading we heard one of the most beautiful passages from the NT, that is, St. Paul’s hymn on Love. Authentic love can cause us to open our hearts and, in critical situations, to overcome our resistances without calculations. ‘Harden not your hearts as at Meribah’, says God (Ps 95:8)who is Love himself, and who continues to invite His people. And Jesus, visible manifestation of that same divine Love, continues to invite us: ‘Come to Me all you who labor and are overburdened (…), for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls’(Mt11:28-29).
Fr. Daniel Hombergen
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