Prophets comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable
Michel DeVerteuil General comments
The incident related in today’s gospel story is a precious moment of grace for the people of Nazareth, one that we too experience from time to time – Jesus invites them and us to stop hiding behind their false identity and come to the truth of themselves.
We all need to feel special; the problem is how we go about fulfilling that need. The easy – but false – way is to take the short cut of finding our “specialness” in belonging to a group that considers itself superior to others. We find our “specialness” in our sex, race, colour, ethnic origin, nationality, or from the fact that we are married, are “old boys” or “old girls” of some school, university graduates, have a job, or own our homes.
Today’s reading reminds us that the same happens with religious groups. The people of Nazara, like the Jews in general, like members of churches, or of groups within them such as priests, religious and leaders of prayer groups, look on themselves as “the chosen people”.
The basic fault in all these situations is to forget that being part of a group says nothing about our personal worth. If we settle for the group-identity we become complacent and stop facing the truth about ourselves.
The moment of grace comes when someone from our group sees through the cover up, starts mixing with outsiders, and declares that some of them are every bit as good as we are, perhaps even better. A good Catholic boy marries a girl from a different faith, and comes back to say that his in-laws are just as holy as members of his church. One of our own children, perhaps in a moment of anger, shows up our double standards and compares us unfavourably with our neighbours.
We think of those who refuse to play the racial game in politics, business or sport, and criticise members of their own religious or ethnic group. At the world level, Pope John Paul asks forgiveness for the sins of the church, Gandhi refers to the dalits as God’s special children, Nelson Mandela forgives the former rulers of South Africa.
Our spontaneous reaction may be to be angry with those who break ranks. We brand them “traitors.” Our anger is understandable. We are suddenly faced with the reality that we are not “a master race”, “born to rule”, “chosen people”; we must take our place alongside people that we considered inferior, admit our failings, work hard for success.
In the church, all of us – priests, religious, laity – realise that we must “work for our salvation with fear and trembling”.
The person moves on and leaves us to ponder this painful but very important moment of truth. Very gradually, over a period of months perhaps, the truth sets us free. Our anger turns to gratitude, we thank God that the Jesus-person he sent us did not flinch before our anger, but slipped away quietly leaving us to move from a false identity and find our true selves. We are all special to God
Lord, we thank you that every once in a way you send us people like Jesus
who shock us by showing us that we have been hiding
behind the identity of the group we belong to.
They remind us of people who don’t belong to our group, whom you have blessed,
a humble widow who was visited by a great prophet,
the leader of a different religious group whom you healed miraculously
while we were left with our diseases.
It is a painful lesson, especially when it comes from someone within our own household,
and we exclaim, ‘This is Joseph’s son, surely, what right has he to be teaching us?’
But it is a moment of grace;
we realise that we must stop looking down on people of other ethnic groups,
of lesser education than ourselves;
we must join members of other churches, religions and faiths, and unbelievers too,
in asking for your mercy and forgiveness.
Lord, you know that our first response is to become enraged
with those who tell us these home truths,
spring to our feet, hustle them out of our town,
take them up to the brow of the hill our church is built on,
intending to throw them down the cliff.
We thank you that the Jesus you sent us slipped out of our grasp and walked away,
leaving us to ponder on the truth,
experience that the Bible was being fulfilled even as we listened,
and we eventually found life from the gracious words that came from his lips.
Introduction to the Celebration
Let us now spend some moments remembering that we are here because we have heard Jesus’s call to be the people who bring God’s justice to the world and ask pardon for the times we have failed in this vocation.
2. It is deep within us that our group is the gathering of nice people. We represent civilisation, modernity, and all that is best in the world. We might not be smug as individuals, but group smugness is rarely far away. It is confirmed by the fact that people want to be like us or emigrate to be with us. They recognise that our way of life, our school system, our hospitals, our ways of enjoying ourselves all represent a peak of human achievement.
3. However, there are others in this world. Indeed, when we compare them with ourselves we are shocked at the contrast: we are even brighter and more enlightened than we thought we were, and they are darker, dimmer, and more dangerous. Indeed, the very fact that they are different shows that they are bad and a threat to us and our values. And, if they were to oppose us they are opposing civilisation itself.
4. This sort of reasoning is close to nearly every war that is fought and people who wish to lead by fear rather than by vision always need the wicked other. Once war has broken out, then we are usually fighting for nothing less than civilisation itself! What a burden is laid on us amidst such dangers!
5. We even get smug about religion: if one is in the right camp, then one is OK And, being in the right camp becomes more important than seeking the truth, working for justice, and acting with integrity and mercy. Religious slogans replace wisdom.
6. This is the blind spot that Jesus irritates in this gospel. He has told them the time of God’s justice has come, but they are more interested in seeing will he perform miracles. God’s servants are not confined to any pre-packaged group. Sidonians and Syrians – foreigners – maybe as much in God’s plan as we are. This is not a nice message. It is not a message that comforts us, but one that asks us to examine some of the dangerous ideas of exclusion we harbour. It is a message that asks us to begin building the kingdom of justice, peace and love, rather than simply thinking that we belong to it because of a label we sometimes wear.
This gospel text begins where we left off last Sunday, with Jesus telling the people in the synagogue in Nazareth that the scriptures are being fulfilled in their hearing. Their initial positive response to him augurs well but change in attitude comes quickly as it becomes apparent that Jesus is not interested in popular acclaim but in repentance. He reminds his hearers of two occasions in the Old Testament when God used the prophets Elijah and Elisha to assist foreigners at a time when his own people were in need. The people of Nazareth were more interested in what Jesus could do for them than in what he might be asking of them.
‘Today’ the scriptures are again being fulfilled in our hearing. The word of God is alive and active and invites us to ponder where and how God is at work in the daily circumstances of our lives. It is always a word that saves and heals but if we are not ready to be challenged by it then we can either deceive ourselves by pretending it is what we want or we can just reject it. That was the situation of the people in Nazareth, and today, like them, we must ask ourselves if we really want what God wants – that is what repentance is all about.
Donal Neary S.J. 4th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME Christian Love
‘God, that’s very true’ – a remark at our liturgy meeting after the second reading. Jealousy kills, envy too, and isn’t it great to rejoice in the good fortune of another?
Love is what we bring with us at the end of life. ‘We will be judged in the evening of life by love (St John of the Cross). Love for those near and far, for love in the gospel is more than love for just the family, the friend, the attractive one, the neighbour, for all.
There are different calls to Christian love – near and dear daily love, friendship, marriage, relationships. The wider world like in our job where we live in a loving way, in justice with all, not using others for personal gain; the wider world where a universal love makes me want to make a difference in the bigger world. Love carries us into wide seas and waters. It involves us with everyone. It obviously doesn’t mean we relate to everyone – nor that we even like everyone. Love is when others’ lives become at least as important as our own; and in the deepest loves like marriage, family, and often friendship, others’ lives become even more important.
Love changes – we look back and see how the people we loved make the difference. Life is too short to look love in the face and say no.’ We are moulded and remoulded by those who have loved us, and though their love may pass, we are nevertheless their work’ (F Mauriac).
The second reading today is hard to beat! We see it in action when we look at the life of Jesus.
make our hearts like yours.
From the Connections:
Today’s Gospel continues last Sunday’s account of Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue at Nazareth. After proclaiming the fulfillment of Isaiah’s vision of the Messiah (last Sunday’s Gospel), Jesus sits down – the posture assumed by one is about to teach – and begins by explaining in no uncertain terms that he cannot perform any healings or miracles there because of their lack of faith. He teaches that the Messiah does not come for Nazareth alone but for every race, culture and nation of every place and age.
His explanation is met with indignation and anger. Many Jews of the time were so convinced that they were God's own people that they despised everyone else. They could not accept Jesus’ idea that others – Gentiles! – were as loved by God as they were. Jesus is forced to leave his hometown.
As Jesus the carpenter prayed, reflected, argued, and searched constantly for the truth, we are called to be seekers of truth: both to listen with open hearts to the prophets among us and to speak the prophetic truth ourselves in our homes, work places, classrooms and marketplaces.
The core of the Gospel is the revelation that God became what we are so that we can better understand what God is and grasp what God is about: love, forgiveness, compassion, justice, peace.
To speak as a prophet and to listen as a prophet demands the honesty and courage to confront exactly who we are and our need for change and re-creation in the love of God.
Her guardian angel stood and tried to think of some good deed she had performed so that the angel could plead for her before God. Finally, he remembered something; it was not a very big thing, but it was something with which he could plead her case before God.
“Lord, she once pulled up an onion in her garden and gave it to a poor beggar,” the angel said to God.
God answered: “Very well. Take that onion, hold it out to her in the lake of fire, and let her take hold of it and be pulled out. And if you can pull her out of the lake, let her come to Heaven. But if the onion breaks, then the woman must stay where she is.”
The angel ran to the woman and held out the onion to her. “Come, catch hold and I’ll pull you out.” The old woman grabbed the onion and the angel began to carefully pull her out by the stalks. He had just about pulled her to safety when other sinners in the lake of fire saw how she was being drawn out and tried to catch hold of the onion so that they, too, might be saved. But the wicked woman began kicking them off.
“I’m to be saved, not you!” she screamed. “It’s my onion, no yours!”
As soon as she said that, the onion broke, and she fell back into the lake.
All her guardian angel could do was weep and walk away.
From Fr. Jude Botelho:
Truth shall prevail
Brinsley Mc Namara wrote a classic story called The Valley of the Squinting Windows. It is a great read, and is available today, many decades later. He came from a very rural area of Ireland, and was well known, because his father was a teacher in the local school. History was such that everybody in the village recognized themselves among the characters of the story. This led to public outrage in his hometown, while the rest of the country was avidly reading the book! The book was burned in public, his family had to leave town, and, to this day, his name still evokes strong reactions among many of the people of that town. What he wrote was too close to the bone. If he had written a book about the people of some other town, he probably would have been hailed as the local literary hero. To this day none of his descendants would dare return to their roots in that town. They did, in a symbolic way, take him outside the town, and threw him over a cliff.
Jack McArdle in 'And that's the Gospel Truth
Today's gospel continues that of last Sunday, where we saw Jesus going to the synagogue, as was his habit and there he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. After the reading Jesus solemnly declared that the scripture that he had read was being fulfilled at that moment in their hearing. We are told that initially people were in admiration and wondered at his eloquence.
The Greek philosopher Diogenes was regarded by many who knew him as a somewhat eccentric teacher, not least for his belief that virtue consisted in the avoidance of all physical pleasures, but that pain and inconvenience were conducive to goodness. Few people could accept either his teaching or his way of life. Diogenes was once noticed begging from a statue. When someone asked him the reason for this pointless conduct, he replied: "I am exercising the art of being rejected." Diogenes experienced plentiful rejection in his time; whether he ever became accustomed to being rebuffed remains an open question. In today's Gospel we see how Jesus, after preaching in the synagogue in Nazareth, is rejected by his own townspeople. Some of them are awed by his gracious words, while others are more concerned about his pedigree and address. The neighbours of Jesus are no different from any neighbours. Jesus, for his entire mission to humankind, still has to face local suspicion, gossip, behind-the-curtain omniscience; experts in character demolition, locals who believe that nothing special can emerge from the neighbourhood without their spotting it first. Prophets are accepted provided that they came from somewhere else; there is nothing as unpromising as the local backwoods.
Dennis McBride in 'Seasons of the Word'
The movie Black Like Me is based on a book by the same title written by John Howard Griffin. It documents his experiences when he had his skin darkened to pose as a Negro and travelled for a month through the Deep South in the late 1950s. John Howard Griffin was born in Dallas and as a youth he studied psychiatry in France. During World War II he was wounded while serving in the army and went blind as a result. In 1947 Griffin returned to Texas to study Braille and become a novelist. After ten years of blindness, he recovered his eyesight in a dramatic way and was able to see his wife and two children for the first time. Griffin then got a job with a Negro magazine. It was during this time that he undertook his Black Like Me adventure. Griffin went on to become a leader in the Civil Rights Movement, thus incurring a backlash of hatred from white racists, ranging from threatening mail and phone calls to being hung in effigy by his own townspeople. Griffin died in 1980. The opposition John Howard Griffin encountered in his prophetic work for civil rights finds a parallel in today's readings.
Jack McArdle in 'And that's the Gospel Truth!'
Teaching with Authority
In one of its issues Newsweek addressed in depth the Women's Liberation Movement. It observed that once the revolution was declared, the nation was flooded with books on the subject. Some books, like those written by Nancy Woloch and Phyllis Schlafly, were serious studies of the significance of the movement. Other books, like those authored by Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, were more strident and dogmatic. The latter illustrate what often happens in a movement - self-styled prophets emerge who presume to speak with full authority. And so we have had such figures as Hugh Hefner as the spokesman for the Playboy Philosophy, guru Timothy Leary for the LSD cult and the militant Malcolm X for the Black Power movement. History shows that many of these movements die out and that their prophets fade away. But there is one movement that endures, one prophet who lives forever. The movement is Christianity and the prophet is Jesus Christ.
Albert Cylwicki in 'His Word Resounds'
Some incredible inconsistencies
On a Sunday morning TV show not too long ago, a popular evangelical preacher was being interviewed by an ever-smiling host. At one moment he was praising a certain fellow believer as "one of the finest, most God-fearing, most authentic human beings I have ever met." A moment later he was condemning a certain woman as a "hopeless sinner, an unredeemed being, not even worth praying for." Could this be true religion? Shades of Luke 4:22 and 4:28-29! True religion, an authentic relationship with God, is not always wild and exciting. But like true love, it is faithful, supportive, and enduring.
God doesn't make junk!
One of Martin Luther's schoolmasters used to remove his hat when he met his class of small children, pointing out that no one could know what might be included in the group. To use his own words he said there might be "a future mayor, or chancellor, or doctor or engineer!" This is the picture that we must have in mind when we look at each other. We should see every one as God's work. God doesn't make junk. Robert Hichens, the noted painter of the sea, once sought a boy whose face might reflect the wonder of the sea. After searching he discovered that he could not find such a lad in one of the sea-coast towns of England. In order to find a face that reflected wonder in connection with the sea he had to choose a boy from the slums of London, a boy who had never seen the ocean before! Familiarity breeds contempt, but let us remember that God doesn't make junk.
John Pichappilly in 'The Table of the Word'
They will comment anyway...
The following is a summary of the comments made about the parish priest in a typical parish:
If his homily is longer than usual, 'He sends us to sleep.'
If it's short 'He hasn't bothered.'
If he raises his voice, 'He is shouting.'
If he speaks normally, 'You can't hear a thing.'
If he's away, 'He's always on the road.'
If he's at home, 'He's a stick-in-the-mud.'
If he's out visiting, 'He's never at home.'
If he's in the presbytery, 'He never visits his people.'
If he talks finances, 'He's too fond of money.'
If he doesn't, 'The parish is dead.'
If he takes his time with people, 'He wears everybody out.'
If he is brief, 'He never listens.'
If he starts Mass on time, 'His watch must be fast.'
If he starts a minute late, 'He holds everybody up.'
If he is young, 'He lacks experience.'
If he is old, 'He ought to retire.'
And if he dies? Well, of course, 'No one could ever take his place.'
Jack McArdle in 'And that's the Gospel Truth
From Fr. Tony Kadavil:
4. Rejection at the Pearly Gate:
From the Sermons.com:
6: Tell the Cats to Turn Around
Jesus lived on the margins and moved the margins to include all people, and hence invited hostile crowds to want to edge him out of existence. Today the church wants to edge Jesus out of our worship anytime the margins are made too wide and include too many who are not like us. Recently I was sitting at my computer, contemplating the way Jesus offended so many people so quickly in his ministry. I asked, "Why?" The answer was at the top of my screen. My word processing instructions at the top read: "Drag the margin boundaries on the rulers." That is why he upset people so much: in his life he dragged the margin boundaries of race, creed, and color to include all people. He dragged the margin boundaries when he gave a common meal, which we have made a holy meal symbolic of his inclusive love for all people. Jesus is dragged to the edge of a cliff to be put out of the lives of his townspeople because no one wants the margins of daily living to be inclusive of strangers.
Richard W. Wing, Deep Joy for a Shallow World,
8. Preaching at Home
It is difficult for a preacher to go back home. Everybody knows you. That is the problem. Of all the sayings of Jesus, one of the few things he said that appears in all four gospels is that a prophet gets no respect in a prophet's hometown. To put it another way, "You become an expert only after you move more than ten miles from home."
William G. Carter, Praying for a Whole New World
Jesus then goes on to suggest that maybe those very detractors in the crowd that day would be asking him shortly for an authenticating sign. Although we have not as of yet been told directly by Luke of any particular work Jesus did in Capernaum, apparently he's been there and done some amazing things. But Jesus is no trained dog or dancing bear and he makes clear he's not going to do any such thing in Nazareth. Worse, he inflames people still more by saying that with the attitudes some were harboring in their hearts at that very moment, the Nazareth populace was not worthy of a divine working. Instead, as in the feckless, sub-spiritual days of Elijah and Elisha, God would work his wonders elsewhere, outside Israel.
10. On the Way to the Cross
It's that reach that causes us to squirm, or to keep a safe distance, or to run away. The Canadian theologian Douglas John Hall remembers that Paul Scherer, a great preacher of the past, used to point out that in the New Testament the kingdom of heaven and the life of discipleship is so often described as a great feast, a bounteous banquet. But then that preacher reminds the hearers of the irony that everyone was trying stay away from that feast. Or as Hall himself then wonders, how is it that the theology of "megachurchianity" in our culture assumes that everyone has this strong compulsion to "get as close to Jesus as possible?" To draw near to this Jesus is to encounter the Gospel that confronts and convicts and threatens. And you and I find our place somewhere in Luke's crowd, because if we're honest, the Gospel of Jesus Christ hits too close to home, to the hometown crowd. "They got up, drove him out of town and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff....but Jesus went on his way."
Once in a while, I would give in and turn to a text that everybody had heard before. At coffee hour, folks would say, "Whew! You really gave it to us today!" Little by little, it began to dawn on me: The power of the prophetic word does not come from roaming a far country where no one has gone before. The real power of the gospel comes from reminding the people of God of what they already know.
William G. Carter, Praying for a Whole New World
So, there are words and The Word. Of course, the Bible is the Word above all other words. But we go even further than that in the Christian faith. Jesus is the Word -- the Word become flesh -- and by the Word that He is, we assess all other words including the Bible.
We could have spent the entire sermon talking about the message that Jesus read from Isaiah when He took up the book in the temple.
13. Fear of the Cure
Before we start the
message this morning I need you to do something for me. I want everybody on
this side (point to the right side) to move over here (point to the left side).
I want everybody in the center to move there (point to the right side). And I
want everybody on this side (point to the left side) to move to the center. OK,
After everyone has moved, and is uncomfortable, mad and grumbling. Did that make you mad? Of course it did. It probably made you "Good and Mad" We don't like change. We don't like being told what to do. We don't like being inconvenienced. Do we? And we get angry. We get "Good and Mad" when are.
Focusing on the Flaws
Love - 1 Corinthians 13