February 3, 2019 Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time Homily

Surprised by Jesus’ words and actions, the people shouted in villages of Galilee, “a great prophet has arisen among us!”  They had heard that He had performed miracles, and they wanted Him to perform some for them.  However this isn’t what happens in Nazareth when he appears among his neighbors as the one anointed as Prophet of the poor.

Jesus enters a synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth and essentially proclaims Himself the long-awaited Messiah.  The Nazarenes wonder how such an ordinary man could possibly claim something so extraordinary.  As Jesus continues to speak, He implies that He doesn’t expect His fellow Nazarenes to believe Him.

After proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom to his own townspeople at Nazareth (Luke 4:23-27), he did not hesitate to confront them with their sin of indifference and unbelief.  He startled his listeners in the synagogue at Nazareth with a seeming rebuke that no prophet or servant of God could receive honor among his own people.

He refers to Elisha and Elijah who both worked miracles for Gentiles during a dark time when God looked unfavorably upon the Israelites.  By referring to these two prophets, Jesus suggests that the Israelites who refuse to accept Him as the Messiah will lose out on blessings from which even Gentiles would benefit.  He told them that as in the past he would only perform miracles for those with faith, even if they were Gentiles.  Jesus is saying that faith, not lineage, enables one to receive God’s blessings.

He angered them when he complimented Gentiles (non-Jews) who had shown more faith in God than the “chosen ones” of Israel.  Jesus’ praise for “outsiders” offended the ears of his own people because they were blind-sighted to God’s merciful plan of redemption for all the nations.  Throughout the Gospels, Jesus praised individuals who put their faith in God as they remembered the great and wonderful deeds he had performed time and again.  But, on this day, the word of rebuke spoken by Jesus was met with indignation and hostility.

Jesus, a local working man, was someone they could identify with. They cannot believe He is the Savior.  They ask, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” (Lk 4:22).  They couldn’t get past His family background.  But they didn’t have any faith in Him.

They wanted to kill Him for saying this.  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 a Prophet.

When we hear this account, there is a part of us that itches to tell the Nazarenes off.  They had the Son of God in their midst and they blew it.  As soon as he began to teach, they tried to run him off a cliff.  How blind!  We think…How foolish!  I would never do that…

Like the Nazarenes in this Gospel, we can take Jesus for granted, too.  All our lives, we’ve heard that Jesus is the Savior, that He performed great miracles and Resurrected from the dead.  But He only ever seems to come to us in ordinary ways: as a quiet voice in our hearts, through stories in the Bible, and under the appearance of simple bread and wine.

Some truths are often bitter.  Jesus proclaimed the truth in the Synagogue in Nazareth.  We too may be angered or agitated when someone (even a pastor?) 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 and appreciation.  Instead he chose to call a spade a spade.  In effect, Jesus declared that God has no favorites.  There are no privileged to receive love and compassion.  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 favor by the titles we hold, but receive it freely from the unconditional love of God for us. The same love that St. Paul speaks of in first Corinthians.

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 us to hear.  Our prejudice can be against the very priest or preacher who addresses us, against some in the congregation, the choir, the readers or other ministers, 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.

But if we are honest, these readings require us to hold up a mirror to our own lives.  As much as we long for God’s Word to be fulfilled in our hearing, we want it fulfilled in our way.  On our timetable.  We don’t treat our own prophets very well, either.  We want the good things in life and we aren’t particularly kind to messengers who teach us that the promise of the Gospel is that the rich will be sent away, the hungry will be filled and the proud will be scattered.

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.

Obstinate people present themselves to Jeremiah and Jesus today.  Prophets incite people to action.  Both Jeremiah and Jesus provoked people in God’s name.  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.

There is still another level to the prophecy though.  It is the level that looks down through the ages, 2,600 years, that looks to us. The overwhelmingly Good News is that before each of us was born, or even conceived, God knew us, each of us.  Think about that.  God knew you and knew me before our mothers and fathers ever met.  He was excited to bring us into being. He was thrilled to call us to proclaim His truth.  We are not just random results of nature.  We are individuals whom God has been fascinated with from before our existence.

And He calls us to proclaim His Truth. But his call comes with the warning that was given to Jeremiah, “They will fight against you, but I am with you to deliver you.” He will be with us as we proclaim the authentic way of life, living for the Kingdom of God.

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21).  The “today”, proclaimed by Christ that day, applies to every age; it echoes for us in this Church Community, reminding us of the relevance and necessity of the salvation Jesus brought to humanity.  God comes to meet the men and women of all times and places, in their real life situations.  He also comes to meet us.  It is always he who takes the first step: he comes to visit us with his mercy, to lift us up from the dust of our sins; he comes to extend a hand to us in order to enable us to return from places where our pride made us fall, and he invites us to receive the truth of the Gospel and to walk on the paths of good.  He always comes to find us, to look for us.

We all stand in need of God’s grace and merciful help every day and every moment of our lives.  Scripture tells us that “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23).  “Love is patient, Love is kind, It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails” ( Corinthians 13:4-8a).   God gives grace to the humble who seek him with expectant faith and with a repentant heart that wants to be made whole and clean again.