FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2022)
Readings:Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19Psalms 71:1-6, 15-171 Corinthians 12:31-13:13Luke 4:21-30
There is always some separation anxiety when a child moves out of the home to attend college. There are no guarantees that the child doesn’t reserve the right to move back in for as long as he or she wants, but most often it marks a definitive break, and part of the necessary process of becoming their own person.
Over the last few liturgical weeks we have witnessed Jesus moving out of the home of His parents, brought on by that little acceleration of God’s plan by Mary when she said to her Son at Cana, “They have no wine.” In the interim, Jesus seeks out John the Baptist (a subject covered at the end of the Christmas season, so it doesn’t take its place chronologically here) and is baptized, and so His public ministry (His moving out of the house, so to speak) begins. Last week Jesus returns to the Synagogue for study and prayer, and He is handed a scroll to read. The very last words spoken by Jesus last week, are the very first words of this week’s gospel, showing the continuity of Luke’s gospel, and coloring our assessment of what looked like a very positive first run for Jesus. We are still reminded by the opening of today’s gospel that “all spoke highly of Him,” but then the grumbling begins almost immediately, a grumbling which inflames itself to the edge of violence.
A better reading from Jeremiah could have been chosen as our first reading, for like last week’s gospel reading it leaves us with a far more positive view of the prophetic vocation than it deserves. Yes, Jeremiah is chosen “in the womb,” and he will obey God and stand before Judah’s kings, priests and people “and tell them all that [God] commands them.” While they will fight Jeremiah, they will not prevail, for the Lord is with Jeremiah to deliver him. If this were a job application in front of Jeremiah, he should sign it right away, for what could possibly go wrong? The answer, everything!
It is not long before Jeremiah realizes the extraordinary difficulty of preaching God’s Word. He comes to the point of cursing the day he was born. He is thrown in a cistern to die, and he eventually goes into hiding because the scorned woman, Bathsheba, is hunting him down in order to have him killed. These possibilities must have been in the fine print of that prophetic contract!
In reality, Jeremiah, as do all of the other prophets, come to know the challenges of preaching God’s Word, and Jesus in His first prophetic outing will also feel the resistance of the powers of evil. Luke tells us at the beginning of this narrative that Jesus “was praised by all,” but when Jesus begins to challenge His listeners with thoughts that God’s love and mercy flows where it will and cannot be confined to any singular people, that is when they were “filled with fury,” and they rose up to drive Him out of town, leading Him “to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl Him down headlong.” A very auspicious start to Jesus’ public ministry in Luke.
All of us are called to share in the prophetic role of Jesus – our priest, prophet, and king! All of us, as a result of our baptism, are called to preach the gospel of love so beautifully described in our second reading in Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians. One could imagine preaching that part of the gospel as no problem, since who can argue with the beautiful concept of love. But when love becomes less theoretical, and more pragmatic, the debates would wage as to who is more deserving of love. Love should erase the boundaries between the haves and have nots, the boundaries between races and religions, the boundaries of people behind bars and people who are not.
Because Jesus’ gospel touches all of the places in all of our lives, it is impossible to preach the gospel without offending someone. When preaching God’s gospel we must become the “fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass,” able to stand steadfast in the face of the most withering criticisms. And we do that because we know, like Jeremiah, Isaiah, Hosea, and all the prophets, that God is our rock, our fortress, and our stronghold of safety, and although “people will fight against us, they will not prevail over us.”