“This is the son of Joseph, surely? … I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country” (Luke 4: 22, 24)
The periscope of the Gospel we are reading this Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C (Luke 4: 21-30) is a continuation from last Sunday’s Gospel. Jesus, we remember went to Nazara or Nazareth, where He was brought up, on a Sabbath day and went into the synagogue, as He often did. He was given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah from where He read (Isaiah 61: 1-2). When He finished, He rolled up the scroll and sat down and began to teach. For He was recognised by the people as a Rabbi (a Teacher). Then He said: “This text is fulfilled today, even as you listen.” How did the people react or respond to this? The Gospel of today narrates the story.
St. Luke tells us that “He won the approval of all and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from His lips.” These reactions did not last! Why did it not, you may ask? Remember, last week we noted that the Pharisees, who were in charge of the synagogues, felt threatened by Jesus, whose teaching was characterised with authority and accompanied with miracles and signs, which made Him more accepted and popular among the peoples. And so He was always confronted by these Pharisees, who were fast losing their religious relevance. The narrative of today is the first of many of such confrontations. No doubt, the Pharisees in the synagogue must have raised the question: “This is the son of Joseph, surely?” to demean Jesus; to reduce Him to the level of “ordinariness;” and to remind the people of His poor and lowly background. It is a pity that they could only see the “Son of Joseph” and not hear the voice of “The Prophet” and “The Messiah” in their midst. This is what envy does, especially when soaked in hatred. It blinds and deafens – the envious can neither see clearly nor hear the truth. Their vision is blurred and their hearing is impaired by the vices in their hearts. Have we ever been a perpetrator or a victim of such acts? As a perpetrator, you live to lose because you cannot benefit from the innate gifts that God has given to the one you envy instead, and, more than that, you destroy your inner beauty and dwarf your charisms. You certainly cannot grow. As a victim, learn from Jesus’ patient but firm reactions in the Gospel. Keep this weakness of the Pharisees in mind as we read through the Gospel of Luke this year. This will characterise the reactions of the Pharisees, the Scribes and the high priests leading to the final conspiracy that results in the Passion and Death of Jesus.
Having sowed the seed of doubt and “ordinariness” in the minds of the people, what follows is not so much of a surprise. Jesus’ reply was even more astonishing, if not provoking. He does not change His message neither does He offer explanations, rather calmly but firmly He goes deeper by quoting the saying that clearly presents Him as a Prophet among His people: “I tell you solemnly, no prophet is never accepted in his own country.” But even more than that He reminded them of two familiar but unpleasant stories of how Elijah, during the great and severe famine, was not sent to anyone in Israel except the widow of Zarephath in a Sidonian town (1 Kings 17: 7-24); and how Elisha, the successor of Elijah, healed Naaman, the Syrian leper, and not any of the many lepers in Israel (2 Kings 5: 1-14). These stories provoked their sensibilities because these favoured people were not Jews. The Jews had always prided themselves as the chosen ones of God and were never happy when God extended His graciousness to outsiders. This was a sordid reminder, but Jesus did this to press the point that He has come as an embodiment of the boundless hospitality of God (John 10: 10; Acts 10: 34-35; Romans 2: 11). Are we sometimes unhappy when God blesses others? Do we rejoice sincerely with others in their successes? (Romans 12: 15).
“When they heard this everyone in the synagogue was enraged.” The people finally rejected Jesus and were prepared to do away with Him, not by simply sending Him out of their town, but to do away with Him finally “intending to throw Him down the cliff.” But since His time has not yet come, Jesus “slipped through the crowd and walked away.” How hard it could be to listen and accept the truth that hurts us? How do we react to truth that hurts? How do we receive the Word of God when it pricks our consciences pointing directly to our weaknesses, opening up our secrets? How do we feel about the messenger of God who speaks the truth to us?
Luke has begun his Gospel with what could be called “a mini-Gospel” that presents Jesus as the successor of the ancient prophets, who is rejected by His people, crucified on the hill, but conquers the evil intensions of His persecutors by rising from death. In the life of Jesus we can see the fulfilment of the prophetic call of Jeremiah in the First Reading (Jeremiah 1: 4-5, 17-19). Before he was born, God had known him and created him for a purpose; fortified him and sent him forth as His prophet among His people. But notice that God does not assure Jeremiah of a smooth sail. He has only promised him a safe landing. The way will be rough as “They will fight against you” but you can be sure they “shall not overcome you” because “I am with you to deliver you.” How often we forget that God’s accompaniment on our journey through life does not interpret to a trouble-free trip. It calls for perseverance and faith in the promise of His abiding presence and final triumph. But we have to fight our battle with the grace He provides us. We are to trust in the constant unconditional love of God that St. Paul lays out clearly to us in the Second Reading (1 Corinthians 12: 31-13: 13). God’s love for us is patient and kind and forgiving. This is the nature of love we are expected to have for one another, and not any other.
Is my love patient and kind and forgiving?
Is my love jealous, boastful and conceited?
Is my love rude, selfish and resentful?
Does my love take pleasure in the sins of others?
Does it delight in truth, ready to excuse, to trust, to hope and to endure?
May God teach us how to imitate His Son Jesus Christ to patiently show love even in the face of hatred, jealousy and rejection so that we can be focused on the mission that He created us for in this life. Amen.