Christ Preaching in the Temple, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat.gr.1613, Vatican City State.
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Jesus began speaking in the synagogue, saying: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:21.
Words highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.
Today’s readings disclose a variety of feelings, from pure love to pure hatred, from “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous…” to “[they] led [Jesus] to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong….” Paul talks of seeing life, as it were, in a glass, darkly, which will become clear when face to face with God. That contrasts with the murderous clarity of the furious crowd intent on killing the Lord for speaking the truth in their midst. There was no way, in their view, that this local lad could possibly be their Messiah, let alone calmly declare such in the sacred confines of the synagogue itself. Sacrilege! Punishment! There is something unnerving about being around a really virtuous person, one whose integrity is utterly without question, whose record is completely pure. Why can’t I be like that? might be a question. Jealousy might well rear its ugly head over such a realization, and, unchallenged, could become murderous. I imagine that being good and pure can be contrasted with the bad and impure, and those who see that negativity in themselves are not very grateful to be so informed, hence a possibly violent reaction. Or it can take a stranger course. My mother, who grew up Anglican in England (Episcopalian in the USA) announced to her astonished family in the 1970s that she had become Catholic. We didn’t have a clue! It was lovely. However, a few years later she announced she had given it all up. Why? we asked. Well, she had been under instruction from a saintly old priest, who had told her in no uncertain terms that she HAD to go to confession if she ever wanted to receive communion at Mass. Well, she found she was inventing sins in the confessional to satisfy this command! Horrified, I said to her, “Mother, as a priest, I say to you, you do NOT have to go to confession in order to go to communion, only when you feel it is necessary”. “Yes, dear” was her only response. Who was she going to believe, the saintly old priest or her son? I have always likened this experience to Jesus’ reception in the local synagogue. There was no way they would listen to his words. Luckily for me, mother did not club me over the head with her iron… But she did not believe me. Jesus’ neighbors surely did not believe him! What is it with familiarity which seems to breed discontent? As we know, Jesus found it difficult to carry out his mission in his homeland, and reading today’s gospel we can understand. He had to go elsewhere to fulfill the mission his Father had given him at this baptism, to be the Messiah, no matter what others might think. The thought may occur that this is Jesus serving himself, saving himself from death, as he “passed through the midst of them and went away” as it states in today’s gospel. But not so: his mission, vocation, has just begun. Had he been killed at that point, we would never have heard his message. He used his divine powers not save himself but to save the mission entrusted to him by God. Once that was fulfilled, he let events take their course.
So it seems that today’s readings call us to be and to act as lovingly as possible, no matter what. The Lord wants us to be loyal bearers of his Word through all the good and bad times of life, never to give in. Jesus experienced some terrible times, even before his Passion, as seen today in his local synagogue. But he did not give up for a sake of a quiet life, one which would have betrayed his divine vocation. He knew clearly what his Father wanted of him, through good times and bad, and at the very beginning of his mission, he experienced that without any doubt at all. So Paul’s great lesson on love, sent to the Christians in Corinth, today’s second reading, has rung down the centuries to us today, as bright and refreshing – and as challenging – as it must have been for them. But, as ever, we must remember we are not alone in trying to be loving, loyal and strong no matter what it might look like. The Lord is with us at every moment, as he promised. We are never alone, despite everything. He is around us, he is within us, he is above and below us. We are surrounded by the love which rejoices with the truth, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping in all things, enduring all things. That got Jesus through the good and bad times. So it is with us.
Christ Led to the Top of a Hill Outside Nazareth, Nadal 1593 , Evangelicae Historiea Imagines (plate 40, Antwerp), Fine Arts Museums, San Francisco, USA.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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