Sunday, January 31, 2010

Faith, Hope, Love Remain; But The Greatest Of These Is Love.

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading I
Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19

The word of the LORD came to me, saying:
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.
But do you gird your loins;
stand up and tell them
all that I command you.
Be not crushed on their account,
as though I would leave you crushed before them;
for it is I this day
who have made you a fortified city,
a pillar of iron, a wall of brass,
against the whole land:
against Judah’s kings and princes,
against its priests and people.
They will fight against you but not prevail over you,
for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.

+++ +++ +++ +++
Psalm 71

I will sing of your salvation.
In you, O LORD, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your justice rescue me, and deliver me;
incline your ear to me, and save me.
I will sing of your salvation.
Be my rock of refuge,
a stronghold to give me safety,
for you are my rock and my fortress.
O my God, rescue me from the hand of the wicked.
I will sing of your salvation.
For you are my hope, O Lord;
my trust, O God, from my youth.
On you I depend from birth;
from my mother’s womb you are my strength.
I will sing of your salvation.
My mouth shall declare your justice,
day by day your salvation.
O God, you have taught me from my youth,
and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deeds.
I will sing of your salvation.
+++ +++ +++ +++

Reading II
1 Corinthians 12:31—13:13

Brothers and sisters:
Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts.

But I shall show you a still more excellent way.
If I speak in human and angelic tongues,
but do not have love,
I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy,
and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge;
if I have all faith so as to move mountains,
but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away everything I own,
and if I hand my body over so that I may boast,
but do not have love, I gain nothing.

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.

If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing;
if tongues, they will cease;
if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.
For we know partially and we prophesy partially,
but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
When I was a child, I used to talk as a child,
think as a child, reason as a child;
when I became a man, I put aside childish things.
At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror,
but then face to face.
At present I know partially;
then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.
So faith, hope, love remain, these three;
but the greatest of these is love.

Luke 4:21-30

Jesus began speaking in the synagogue, saying:
“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
And all spoke highly of him
and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.
They also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?”
He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb,
‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say,
‘Do here in your native place
the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’”
And he said, “Amen, I say to you,
no prophet is accepted in his own native place.
Indeed, I tell you,there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah
when the sky was closed for three and a half years
and a severe famine spread over the entire land.
It was to none of these that Elijah was sent,
but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon.
Again, there were many lepers in Israel
during the time of Elisha the prophet;
yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
When the people in the synagogue heard this,
they were all filled with fury.
They rose up, drove him out of the town,
and led him to the brow of the hill
on which their town had been built,
to hurl him down headlong.
But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.

Today’s gospel begins where last Sunday’s gospel ended. Jesus, at the beginning of his public life, delivered what today we would call his “mission statement”, using the words of the prophet Isaiah, concluding with these words, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

At first, the crowd is amazed by his eloquence, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph? He speaks such gracious words for a carpenter’s boy!” Jesus knows their thoughts, and answers them, “Surely, you’re about to ask me ‘Why don’t you do here in your home town the wonderful things we’ve heard you were going in Capharnaum?” Jesus is well aware that prophets are not normally accepted in their native place. He gives two striking examples from the Hebrew Scriptures, one from Elijah and the other from Elisha, prophets who foretold the coming of the Messiah.

Elijah was sent by God to help a poor woman in Sidon and her son during a famine caused by three and a half years of drought. Why did the prophet go to her, when there were many Jewish widows in the same plight? There were many lepers in Israel when Elisha was sent to Naaman the Syrian. Then, as now, Israel and Syria were bitter enemies. And Naaman was not only a gentile; he was a general in the Syrian army!

Why was Jesus telling such provocative stories? There are two reasons.

Since the people of Nazareth know Jesus’ family so well, they are not ready to accept him, or his message about his true identity and mission. This is a good example of the proverb, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Because Joseph and his family had been living among them since the boy was a babe in arms, they thought they knew who he was, and what he would become when he grew up. After all, rabbis’ sons become rabbis, and carpenters’ sons become carpenters. That’s just the way it is.

Further, Jesus was able to do very little healing in Nazareth, because the people refused to believe in him. The gospels make it clear that Jesus’ healing power came only to those who put true faith in him. “Go in peace; your faith has made you whole.”

Of course, the response of the people on this occasion was merely a foretaste of the total rejection of Jesus by the leaders of the people (Pharisees, Scribes, Teachers of the Law) later on, when the son of Joseph went to Jerusalem and started preaching and healing in the Temple. The congregation in the synagogue of Nazareth was amazed the one of their own could speak with such grace, such eloquence – and in particular, such authority. But it was something else again to put themselves in his hands. When they heard him speak about the poor reception the prophets of old had received from their own people, the Nazarenes were worked up into a blind and hateful rage. They wanted to push Jesus over the edge of the cliff on which the town was built. But, says Luke, Jesus passed through their midst, and went away.

Let us pray that such a thing might never happen to us: that Jesus might walk right by, and we don’t acknowledge his presence. [This typically happens when we fail to see him in the people around us.] Worse yet, that we recognize him, and reject him, so that he goes on his way without us, leaving us behind. He will never abandon us, but neither will he force himself upon us. He opens his arms, as a loving, gentle big brother; but we must come to him. Some come with arms open to embrace him, like a three year old; some with eyes lowered and head bowed, like a somewhat older child who got caught with a hand in the cookie jar. Either way works!

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