31 January 2016: Fourth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Jer 1:4-5, 17-19 Ps 71:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 15-17 1 Cor 12:31-13:13 Lk 4:21-30

 

Jesus’ way: unconditional love

During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ stories and teachings from his everyday ministry. Over the next few Sundays, we follow Jesus as he begins his ministry and calls his disciples. This week’s readings connect Jeremiah’s prophetic call and mission with Jesus’ mission as prophet and messiah.

In the first reading God calls Jeremiah to be a prophet not only to Judah (the Hebrew people), but to “all nations.” Through Jeremiah, God offers salvation to all. God warns Jeremiah that those who hear his prophecy will oppose and reject him. God promises to be with Jeremiah always. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to match today’s gospel. These two aspects of Jeremiah’s call–universality of salvation and opposition to his message–appear in Jesus’ words to the Nazareth synagogue.

In the second reading Paul writes to the Corinth ekklasia because its membership is divided over the Spirit’s gifts. Paul tells the Corinthians to continue to strive for spiritual gifts, but the best gift is love. Without love, the spiritual gifts are worthless. Paul uses the Greek word ἀγάπη (ah-GAH-pay), which has the idea of “a warm regard for and interest in another without thinking of one’s self.” ἀγάπη is not sentimental, passive, greeting-card “love,” but robust, active, fully-present, and unselfish concern for another. Paul warns the Corinthians, infatuated with tongues and prophecy, that the spiritual gifts have limits and will end. Only faith, hope, and ἀγάπη persist.

Today’s gospel continues from last week’s reading: Jesus is in his hometown synagogue. Jesus proclaims his mission and his friends and neighbors reject him:

  • Jesus’ mission: Jesus reads from Isaiah’s scroll that foretell him: the Spirit anoints him to preach, to heal, and to free the oppressed. By choosing this Isaiah passage and then commenting on it (“fulfilled in your ears”), Jesus states he is the messiah. Jesus then aligns himself with the prophet Elijah (“sent to the widow Zarephath”) and with the prophet Elisha (“cleansed Naaman the Syrian”). Jesus states he is a prophet, sent to save not just to the Jewish people but all people.
  • Nazareth’s rejection: The Nazareth community was insulted because Jesus refused to recognize his place (“Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”) and wouldn’t perform healings (“Do what you did in Capernaum!”). The Nazareth community knew Jesus well–they watched him grow up, after all–and therefore questioned his authority or power. How could this local boy be a prophet or the messiah?

Jesus’ miraculous escape (“he passed through their midst”) fulfills God’s promise to Jeremiah in the first reading: “I am with you to deliver you.”

Today’s readings reveal an uncomfortable reality: walking in Jesus’ way often means rejection. Jesus’ mission–to preach, to heal, and to free the oppressed–is our mission, too. Jesus’ “still more excellent way” of ἀγάπη–unconditional love–is the believing community’s roadmap to the kingdom and to the cross. We ask ourselves: Am I patient and kind? Or am I jealous, pompous, self-important, rude, concerned with my own problems, quick-tempered, moody, happiest when others suffer? Which is the disciple’s way?

—Terence Sherlock

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