HOMILY FOR THE 4TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C (JAN. 31)
Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
It would seem from the first reading from Jeremiah today that God has a specific plan for each us, but knowing that we have free will, God knows we will not always fulfill that plan. God wanted Jeremiah to be a prophet. So he gave Jeremiah all the qualities that a prophet would need to stand up to the establishment and be strong enough to get God’s message out there. Now God seems a little stern with Jeremiah on the aspect of free will, though. He says Jeremiah can choose not to do what I say, but there would be repercussions for that. God says, “I will break you before them.” So it does seem sometimes that God stacks the deck in order to get us to achieve his purposes. God’s plan and God’s ways are not our ways.
The Gospel today is like one of those TV shows where they start by saying…Previously on this show… and then recap what happened last week. Similarly today, we start with a recap of last week. Jesus is back in the synagogue in his hometown Nazareth, and after reading the Scriptures, he shakes up everyone by saying “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Doubtless the people in the Temple reading the prophets were not used to someone telling them that they were the fulfillment of a Scriptural prophecy, but Jesus did! If you had been one of the listeners, would you have believed Jesus or would you have felt that this arrogant young man had ambitions to be God-like or had a Prophet-complex. I don’t doubt we might have reacted in the same way as the listeners had we been there.
After all, he watched Jesus growing up and there didn’t seem to be anything particularly special about him. He was just Joseph’s son from Nazareth. Despite this fact, they had been amazed at the words of Jesus when he expounded on the Scriptures. What really made them angry, however, was the implication of his examples that not just the Hebrews were going to be saved. The two examples that Jesus quotes to them show that both involves prophets who went outside of their own people to Gentiles and worked miracles with them. This angered them so much that they wanted to put Jesus to death right there, but miraculously Jesus just walks through and disappears so they were unable to hurl him from the cliff.
I am reminded today of all the people who feel that their religion is the only true religion and they have been willing to kill for that reason. We saw it here in Jesus’ time, and we have seen it in our own Catholic history, and we see it today with the Christian and Muslim extremists.
The only antidote to this comes in the second reading today. I am not sure we get the full impact of this reading anymore because we have relegated it to weddings in the last many years. But it is really not about weddings at all. It is about how we are to treat people in our daily lives. Unless we learn to love, there will be no peace in the world. And in this magnificently written section of Corinthians, we have Paul at his most poetic showing us all that love entails. It is a compendium of other virtues: patience, kindness, acceptance, joy in the success of others, humility, politeness, fearlessness, and truthfulness. The love that Paul is talking about springs from all these other virtues and is also the cause of the other virtues – a cyclical movement of care for others.
For Paul, love is the base of Christianity, and is the measure of its success. It is the greatest of all the virtues; it is the virtue that most makes us human. If we want to change the world we live in today, we need to find ways to make love visible in the world. We can say we have love, but it is in the doing of all those other things that makes love a reality. If we are patient with the cashier at the grocery store, if we are polite to the beggar asking for money, if we are kind to the mother whose children are acting out in the restaurant, if we are joyful when our neighbor across the street wins a lottery, if we are fearless in introducing ourselves to the Syrians who just moved in down the street, if we are honest with our spouses about expressing our needs. These are all simple signs of love in action.
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.” Paul is trying to say that children are not yet very loving, but are more concerned with their own needs and desires. But when we grow up, [we] “put an end to childish ways. To not love our neighbor through loving action is a childish trait. We need to grow up, says Paul, and see the face of God in others, dimly perhaps, but there. If we can do that and treat everyone as we would treat our God, we ourselves can be fulfilled as well.
Not easy, but our society’s growth will depend on it. And this is the Good News of Scripture today.