By FATHER DONALD DILGER
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
First Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19; Response: Psalm 71:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 15, 17; Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:31-13-13; Gospel: Luke 4:21-30
The ministry dates of the prophet Jeremiah were approximately 626-582 B.C. He was of a priestly family living in the settlement of Anathoth about 2½ miles northeast of Jerusalem. There, the word of the Lord came to him in 626 B.C. The Lord, knowing that young Jeremiah would object to his calling, begins by justifying his calling of him to be a prophet. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I dedicated you. A prophet to the nations I appointed you.” Could anyone object to that kind of intro? Yes, and Jeremiah did just that because his teenage brain was not yet fully developed. His objection, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the Lord was unmovable, “Don’t say, ‘I am only a youth,’ for to all to whom I send you, you will go. What I tell you to speak, you will speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.” A symbolic ritual follows. The Lord touched Jeremiah’s mouth, and said, “See, I have put my words in your mouth….”
All this was only a prelude to a long speech by the Lord enclosing visions of future invasion of the Kingdom of Judah. At the end of his speech, the Lord attempts to put some steel into Jeremiah’s backbone and surrounding areas. “Gird your loins!” Loins indicate any location between the waist and the knees. The Lord is telling him to tighten his belt and pull up the long flowing garments people wore to get ready to run. The Lord knows how to flatter Jeremiah’s teenage brain, “I have made you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass against the whole land, kings, princes, priests and people. They will fight you but they cannot win, because I am with you . . . .” We may assume that Jeremiah was, by this time, flexing his biceps and tightening his abs. He does not respond. If, however, he had known his future troubles brought on by his prophetic role, he would have had plenty to say. Later in his career, he will have a rebellious conversation with the Lord and attempt again to escape from his vocation.
The Responsorial Psalm 71 can serve as a reflection on the future troubles of Jeremiah or of anyone who finds himself in the role of a prophet of the Lord. The Psalmist begs the Lord to not let him be put to shame, to be his refuge, his stronghold, his rock, his fortress, to deliver him. The Psalm also reflects on the Lord’s introduction to the call of Jeremiah noted above. “On you I depend from birth, from my mother’s womb you are my strength.” We also see a reflection on Jeremiah’s age when the Lord called him, “O God, you have taught me from my youth until the present . . . .” The people respond with assurance of God’s protection, “I will sing of your salvation.”
The second reading is Paul’s tribute to love. It is often used as a reading during wedding Masses.
Throughout this chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul spoke of the charisms (gifts of the Spirit) found among the Christians of Corinth. He noted their great variety and their unity. He was trying to bring unity into this congregation. He compared the charisms to various parts of the human body. As each part of the body has its function assigned by nature, so each part of the congregation has its function assigned by the Spirit. Each member should function in the gift given rather than invade the function of someone else’s gift. Rather than striving to invade another’s spiritual territory, all should strive for the higher gifts — faith, hope, love (charity). The Greek word is agape. The hymn tells us what love is and what it is not. Just as we know God only vaguely at this time but will someday know him as he is, so the present charisms will fade away. What will take their place? “So faith, hope, love remain, these three, but the greatest of these is love.”
In last Sunday’s gospel, we accompanied Jesus on his visit to Nazareth, his hometown in Galilee. On the Sabbath, he went to the local synagogue. He signaled his willingness to publicly read a selection of Scripture. From the scroll of Isaiah, he read what we call Isaiah 61:1-2. The reader could also interpret the reading, which Jesus did. At first, the audience was amazed and spoke highly of his gracious words. They asked, “Is this not the son of Joseph?” Before Jesus left Nazareth, he had been engaged in the carpenter trade with Joseph, who was Jesus’ adoptive father. They could not understand how their former tradesman was now speaking like a learned scribe. They heard that he worked some miracles of healing at Capernaum in northern Galilee. Was this rumor true? If so, “Do the same here.” Jesus knew their doubts, perhaps combined with unbelief and sarcasm. His response to the replied request for proof won him no friends. He quoted a proverb, “No prophet is accepted in his hometown.” Two examples of prophets followed.
During a long drought in the Kingdom of Israel, despite the great need of widows in Israel, God sent Elijah to a heathen widow in Sidon which was not part of Israel. Even though there were many lepers in Israel, the prophet Elisha cured the leprosy of Naaman, a general of the army of Syria often at war with Israel. These patriotic Nazarene rednecks were not pleased to be reminded that God also helped Gentile heathens. They rushed upon Jesus, chased him out of town to a cliff from which they intended to throw him to his death. If this attempt on Jesus’ life is historical, why do Mark and Matthew have a very different outcome? We do not know how much of Luke’s additions are historical. We do know that biography was not his main objective. It was catechetical instruction. A major thrust of Luke’s teaching is that Jesus’ mission from God was intended not just for his own people but for all people. Luke’s addition of Jesus’ sermon and the violent outcome seem influenced by the experience of the prophet Jeremiah. He, too, visited his hometown to proclaim God’s word, but the men of the town threatened to kill him for his efforts. See Jeremiah 11:18-23. Jeremiah responded with curses. Jesus responded by walking away. What is Luke teaching? The Christian mission is universal. God loves all people, not just a chosen race. The Books of Ruth and Jonah teach the same. Matthew does the same by the story of the Magi.