4th Sunday, O T Year C – 16
Jer.1:4-5, 17-19 /1Cor.12:31-13:13 / Lk.4:21-30
A lady was telling her friend, “my husband and I had a big argument and we ended up not talking to one another for three days. Finally, on the third day he asked where one of his shirt was. I said, ‘So, now you are talking to me.’ He looked confused and asked ‘what are you talking about?’
I said, ‘haven’t you noticed I haven’t spoken to you for three days?’ he said: ‘No, I just thought we were getting along.” Such is the joy and complexity of love. I will speak something about that later. But first, today’s gospel.
We are left with a lot of questions. How is it that Jesus’ visit to his hometown turned from enthusiasm to hostility they wanted to kill him? Or how did he get away from them without being harmed?
Is Luke telling us, in a summarized form, what took place over the course of a number of visits Jesus made to Nazareth as he began his ministry. Luke does not answer our concerns.
We have strong feelings when we discover that someone has lied to us or deceived us. We want the truth, even the unpleasant and painful truth. You want your doctor to tell you that you have cancer. How would you feel if you had terminal cancer and your doctor did not tell you?
It’s far better to be told the truth than to be consoled with a pleasant lie. If your child’s teacher calls you and tells you that your child is failing in school you would, of course, be upset. But if your child were failing how would you feel if the teacher simply allowed you to feel good without knowing the truth?
Now, while we agree with that in principle, there are facts we don’t want to hear. We don’t even want to discuss them. We would rather that they were buried, or that somehow they would go away where we didn’t have to pay attention to them.
It brings to mind the phrase we’ve all heard: “My mind is made up. Please don’t confuse me with the facts.” Today’s gospel account brings us Jesus in His own hometown having just given His “Inaugural Address” in His home synagogue, there among all of His family and friends.
He was the toast of the town – well received; they held Him in their rapt attention. The gospel account tells us “All who were present spoke favorably of him. They marveled at the appealing discourse that came from His lips.” But very soon it all turned to hatred.
Moments later they took Him to the brow of a cliff and attempted to throw Him over the cliff’s edge to His death. They suddenly changed and turned on Him when Jesus told them a truth they did not want to hear.
What had He said to them? Well, He reminded them of two events in Jewish history. One was during the life of Elijah, the prophet. The Hebrews in Elijah’s time were suffering from a horrible drought; people were dying of starvation. A prophet had come from God to a widow and because of her faith. God had saved her.
The problem was she was not a Jew; she was a Gentile. The same was true in the story of Elisha. Leprosy was a plague spreading throughout Israel but God used a prophet to save only one leper, and he, too, was a Gentile.
This was all terribly painful for the Jews of the time of Jesus because they had come to believe that they were God’s Chosen, that non-Jews would not be saved, and that God’s love and favor were manifest only in and among Jews.
The people Nazareth, as well as those in other Jewish settlements, and especially in Jerusalem, apparently thought they had a monopoly on God. In fact, that idea was axiomatic in their thinking. In times of conflict God would come to their aid, they thought.
When all else failed God could be counted on and non- Jews would suffer and die outside of God’s favor and love. Jesus’ words deeply offended them because He was reminding them that what they believed about God’s favor might not be true.
There is a story that truth and lie went for a swim. They took off their clothes and put them on the side as they went into the water. Lie finished swimming and came out first and wore truth’s clothes and went off.
When truth finished swimming, and found that its clothes are gone, it refused to wear lie’s clothes. And that’s why, to this day, people cannot accept the bare truth, the stark truth, the naked truth. That’s also why it is said that a lie can go around the world a couple of times while truth is still putting on its shoes.
With that we may understand now why Jesus met with rejection and violence even in His own hometown. Jesus preached the truth to them because they were His people and they were important to Him. If someone isn’t important enough to tell them the truth, then there is no need to tell them anything at all.
Jesus preached the truth to His people because He cared for them, He loved them, and He knows that the truth will save them and set them free. So at first they were astonished by His words and even gave Him their approval.
But when they realized the truth of what He was saying, they were enraged, and then turned violent and hostile, and even wanted to throw Jesus down the cliff.
Our second reading from St Paul is one of the most beautiful passages written by him. It is especially popular at weddings, and rightly so. It may sound romantic, and indeed a couple who loves one another in the way Paul describes love would surely not lose the romance in their relationship.
But the love Paul talks about does not happen easily or without effort. It demands discipline, unselfishness and self-sacrifice. As Paul says, love is not self-seeking; he insists that without love we are nothing. Paul means it literally.
There is probably no more abused word in the English language than the word “love’, with the possible exception of that other four-letter word, which dictionaries strangely like to define as “making love” or “the act of love.”
Nowadays, the word “love” is used almost exclusively to express romantic attachment. Almost every adult has had some experience of romantic love or has been, at least, brushed by passion, however fleetingly.
St Paul preaches a different gospel. His love-letter to the Corinthians has another theme altogether. These same named qualities are not even distant cousins. His is a heroic virtue, not an obsessive infatuation. Like other scripture writers, Paul prefers to define it negatively.
What it is, is more often better communicated by what it is not. His words speak for themselves. What connects us with one another and makes us one body is love. Without love we are separate individuals, no longer one with our head, which is Christ, and no longer one with each other.
The people of Nazareth are a lot like us. And too often we are much like them. So when the truth hurts, when it confronts and challenges us, we ought to ask ourselves “Why are we so upset?” We ought to take a second look and see if it is God who is causing us growing pains.
We will never be saved if we worship only a God who suits us because we’ve made Him over into our own image and likeness. When we pray we should expect change, for prayer changes us, not God. Amen.