Opening reflection (taken from Magnificat magazine, www.magnificat.com): The people who hear Jesus preach in the synagogue are amazed at His gracious words. Yet they insist on measuring Him according to their own subpar standards. But “when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away,” and the perfect has come in Jesus Christ. The prophetic words of Christ enable us to know fully, even as we are fully known by God from the first moment He formed us in the womb. The risk is loving this Man. The furious people of Nazareth try to kill Him. Christ safely passes through the midst of them, leaving His believers with this assurance: “They will fight against you but will not prevail, for I am with you to deliver you.” “Love never fails.”
(This weekend's Scripture readings are available in the New American Bible translation at the Vatican’s English website at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/_INDEX.HTM.)
First Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19 (Revised Standard Version)
A reading from the book of the prophet Jeremiah.
The word of the LORD came to me saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.
But you, gird up your loins; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them. And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the LORD, to deliver you."
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: To be called by God as His prophet was – and still is – no easy assignment. It usually means rejection by the very people to whom God intends to direct the messages He sends them through the prophet. Isaiah, for example, apparently enjoyed a close relationship with devout King Hezekiah of Judah – but not with Hezekiah's father, wicked King Ahaz. And the people typically were as receptive or as dismissive as their rulers.
Jeremiah's path was essentially the opposite of Isaiah's. God called him during the years in which good King Josiah of Judah personally led his people to a renewed relationship with their Lord – at least on the surface. In truth, God knew that the hearts of the people, greatly corrupted for decades by King Manasseh, Hezekiah's son and Josiah's grandfather, were already too far gone. Once Josiah died, his nation-state would disappear and his people would be exiled. And God had chosen Jeremiah – even before the prophet's conception (a strong witness to the immorality of abortion) – to deliver virtually unending bad news to Josiah's sons and their subjects.
Eighteen years into Jeremiah's mission, Josiah was killed in battle with the Egyptians. Twenty-two years of foreign domination followed before Jerusalem's destruction in 587 B.C. Through all those years and beyond, Jeremiah battled false prophets who predicted deliverance, repeatedly was ordered to be silent, was punished by the authorities and finally was thrown down a cistern to die. God kept his promise to deliver His prophet; when Judah ceased to exist as a political entity, Jeremiah was still prophesying. But he well knew, as Jesus Himself would declare in this weekend's Gospel reading, how a prophet is never respected among his or her own people.
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13
A reading from the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians.
Brothers and sisters: Earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: The Epistle readings during this brief Ordinary Time interlude have revisited Paul's immortal words about the unity of Christians despite the diversity of their spiritual gifts. Now, in perhaps his most famous chapter of Holy Scripture, the “apostle to the Gentiles” gets to the heart of the matter. What attitude is indispensable to the holiness of God's people and the harmony of their lives together and in the world?
Faith and hope are mentioned at the end of the passage, and indeed they are vital qualities for Christians to spiritually survive life's journey with all its heartaches and obstacles. But the indispensable attitude, of course, is love. The full meaning of the “love chapter,” however, is obscured for English-speakers because of the catchall nature of the English word “love.” The context fairly well eliminates the idea that Paul is referring to the sexual attraction represented in the Greek word eros. But one needs to further narrow down the meaning of the original Greek and not be misled to think Christians need only be well-disposed toward other people or even have affection for them akin to the affection between siblings (in Greek, filios).
Paul instead uses the word agape, which appears over and over not only in the New Testament but in the Greek Septuagint translation of the old Testament. It stands for nothing less than the unconditional, self-sacrificing love of God for His creation, the love that not only led Him to create us but also prevented Him from simply casting us out in anger once Adam and Eve had sinned. Instead of turning His face away from humanity, He became fully human while remaining fully divine. He taught us how we should likewise love each other without limits – and then He showed us how by dying on the cross to reconcile us with Himself.
The “love chapter” is read so often at Christian weddings that it has become an unfortunate cliché. Let us instead read Paul's words this way: Agape is patient. Agape is kind. Agape is not jealous. And so on. When we do so, we realize that Paul hardly would have limited the audience for these words to married couples. All human beings are called to love as Christ loved. But if Christians do not so love, how can we expect non-Christians to be drawn to Him who alone enables them – let alone us – to do likewise?
Gospel: Luke 4:21-30
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke. Glory to You, O Lord.
Jesus began speaking in the synagogue, saying: "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." And all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth; and they said, "Is not this Joseph's son?" And he said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, `Physician, heal yourself; what we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here also in your own country.'" And he said, "Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian." When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong. But passing through the midst of them he went away.
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.
Meditation: This reading concludes the two-part tale begun last weekend, when Jesus stepped before His old friends and neighbors in His hometown, read Isaiah 61:1 and declared (as repeated in this weekend's first verse) that this old Messianic prophecy had been fulfilled before them. We know how the people of Nazareth ought to have reacted. We also need to remember that not even the neighboring Galilean communities where Jesus would spend most of His public ministry truly responded properly to the news that their long-awaited Savior had come. But why would Jesus' own townsmen, who had known Him virtually all His earthly life and knew Mary and Joseph even longer, try to kill Him?
First, they literally could not believe their own ears. How could the carpenter's son speak like that? And how could such an (apparently) ordinary person who grew up in their midst be the Messiah? But Jesus, who knows the human heart far more perfectly than we ever will, anticipates the demand for proof and the expression of jealousy (“How come You performed miracles in Cana and Capernaum and other cities but never turned our water into wine?”) that likely would have followed their incredulity.
That wouldn't have been enough reason for the Nazarenes to seek to kill their old neighbor, however. Neither would Jesus' sad declaration of the truth about prophets that Isaiah, Jeremiah and so many other prophets had known all too well. Later, Jesus would publicly identify Himself with God when asked (even using the unspeakably holy “I AM”). But He does not do so here. So if the unforgivable offense was not (alleged) blasphemy, what was it? It was Christ's implication, by citing Elijah's sojourn outside Israel and leprous Naaman's visit to Elisha, that Gentiles had sometimes been more receptive to God's message than His Chosen People. And if Gentiles believed in the God of Israel through two of Israel's greatest prophets, might it mean that salvation was not to be exclusive to Israel?
Praise be to God that it was and is so. But let us not be proud. For if Jesus had grown up among us and told us what He told the Nazarenes … would we have responded any differently?
Close with individual prayer, followed by Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be