Jan 30, 2016

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time - A Prophet among us

(James Tissot)

"They rose up, drove him out of the town . . ."

We are naturally skeptical of those who appear to be self-appointed prophets.  They may come across with a certain authority that lies in them simply saying, "trust me" with no specific explanation of what we should trust them about.  Or maybe we’ve encountered those who seem to pursue a certain authority or leadership over others with a kind of arrogant confidence. We may wonder, “Where’s the humility?”

However, in the case of Biblical prophets, we see over and again in the Old Testament how reluctant they were to accept the call from God to prophecy.  The ancient office of prophet was a specific appointment from God, to speak to the community of their unfaithfulness to the original Covenant made between God and the chosen people.  In doing so, in pointing out this infidelity and its consequences, they became pariahs on the community - shunned and rejected by their own people.

Both in the first reading this Sunday from Jeremiah and the Gospel scene from Luke, a continuation of last Sunday, we see the call to prophecy displayed with all its challenge and mystery. 

The prophet Jeremiah is known as the most revealing of all the prophets.  He reveals and speaks to his human reaction: fear, hesitancy, and regret of accepting the call to be a prophet.  His famous line:  “You duped (deceived) me O Lord, and I let myself be duped,” (Jer 20:7) is an unprecedented emotional reaction to the burden of a prophet. “You tricked me into this God and I let myself be deceived by you.”  Could you imagine speaking to God with such hutzpah?  Yet, Jeremiah, despite his honesty, carried on the burdensome mission given to him in the line of prophets and became one who finally proclaimed the future coming of the New Covenant God will establish. (Jer 31: 31 ff).

The Gospel this Sunday continues from last week in which we find Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth his home town.  He stands amidst those who knew of his early years.  They know of Mary and Joseph so one would think the congregation would welcome this now well-known itinerant young preacher among them.   

At first, the crowd praises his wisdom: “All spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” But then a sudden turn of events is startling.  In the midst of all the praise once the claim of Jesus begins to sink in - "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing" - it’s almost as if someone in the congregation yelled an objection: 

"Wait a minute!  Do you realize what he is saying?  He is making himself the fulfillment of this passage.  That can only be done by the Messiah - and he's no Messiah.  We've known him all his life. We know his parents Mary and Joseph.  Who does he think he is? This Jesus is dangerous or delusional.” 

We have that somewhat tragic scene then Jesus quotes the rejection of the prophets Elijah and Elisha by their own people as he compares himself to them. Their mission was beyond their own. They left and went out to the farther world as would Jesus.  In the end it's all too much for the congregation at Nazareth.   

So, "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." (Lk 4: 29-30).  What happened to turn this crowd of admirers into a lynch mob? While it seems a number in the congregation that Saturday may have admired him, it also seems there was a kind of faction who suddenly fomented rebellion against him and swayed the entire crowd to rise in rejection. 

Although that may sound like Wild West justice the gist of this event certainly implies something of this sort. Their narrow religious sensibilities had been deeply offended by Jesus’ words.  As Jeremiah, called from before conception by God, so too Jesus in the line of the ancient prophets, became from the start a point of controversy.  It begs the question of our own faith.

Unlike Jeremiah, however, and the line of prophets ultimately culminating in the person of Jesus we may wonder what we have to give.  Called by God, anointed with the Spirit, and sent from the Father may be far more than we could imagine for ourselves.

And yet, were we not baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?  Weren’t we too given a share in the Spirit, marked with the sign of Christ, anointed, and presented as a follower of Christ?  There is our common call to carry on this prophetic ministry of Jesus. We may not have had a mystical vision of Christ or a profound religious sense that we were sent by God to preach to the nations but we have been called through water and the Spirit to share in the mission of Christ on this earth.  It is our giftedness through which we are called and chosen.

This giftedness, our talents and abilities, our skills and our knowledge, maybe what we find ourselves doing naturally, is what we offer as treasure to build up the Body of Christ on earth.  We can preach without words, we can inspire as we share our faith, we can lead through our example.

And Paul in our second reading from the ancient Corinthian Church, provides us a beautifully poetic explanation of how we are to present that mission of Christ:  “Love is patient, love is kind, it is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, does not seek its own interests, is not quick-tempered, does not brood over injury, does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth . . . faith, hope and love remain, . . . but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13: 4-13).

While we may think that Paul has written about the marriage covenant, he is essentially speaking of the character of Christian life.  Called by God through baptism and sharing in the life of the Church in this world, our giftedness must be marked by patience, kindness, forgiveness, humility, respect, deference, shared praise, a commitment to the truth and courage in the face of rejection.  Can we give this to the world as followers of Christ and members of his Church? Imagine the world without it.   

From the call of the prophets to Jesus to his Apostles to all believers we extend and participate in this mission of mercy.  In spite of rejection, misunderstanding, and persecution we carry his love beyond ourselves. 

Our celebration of the Eucharist unites as his Body as we share in his life.  Yes, we have been called: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you . . .”

(Jer 1: 4-5). 

Grant us, Lord our God, 
that we may honor you with all our mind, 
and love everyone in truth of heart. 
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever. 

(Opening Prayer of Mass)