4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Jeremiah is the source of this weekend’s first reading. Regarded as one of the major Hebrew prophets because of the extent of his recorded writings, and the brilliance with which he wrote, Jeremiah descended from priests. He was from a small village, Anathoth, only a few miles away from Jerusalem.
As was usual for prophets, Jeremiah was not universally popular, to say the least, among his contemporaries. His prophecies drew sharp rebukes. Critics accused him of blasphemy, a crime that had death as its punishment in the Hebrew code of law. (It was this statute that centuries later led to some of the demands for the crucifixion of Jesus.)
Despite the rejections and denunciations based on falsehoods, Jeremiah never paused in his prophetic mission of insisting upon faithfulness to God and of demanding loyalty to God as a personal, and national, imperative. Furthermore, despite all the criticisms, he never doubted that he was on a mission from God.
When God called Jeremiah to the mission of prophets, during the reign of King Josiah, who ruled the Kingdom of Judah from 640 to 609 B.C., God told Jeremiah to be prepared for harsh responses to Jeremiah’s prophesying.
As its second reading for this weekend, the Church offers us a passage from the First Epistle to the Corinthians. It is one of the loveliest, and best known, sections of the entire corpus of Pauline literature. It is the beautiful explanation of love.
Few better definitions of love, this ability unique to humans in nature, exist. It is clear and straightforward. It is greatly inspiring.
Paul then reveals what happens when a person embraces the Gospel. Imperfections fade away. Knowledge increases. Maturity is reached. The insecurities and smallness of youth pass.
St. Luke’s Gospel is the source of the last reading. Jesus, as the story clearly states, appears in the synagogue in Nazareth. In earlier verses, not part of this weekend’s reading, Jesus stands to read a section of the Book of Isaiah. In this section, Isaiah recalled his own calling to be a prophet. Isaiah gave details as to what this calling meant. It meant that he was God’s spokesman, sent by God to bring liberty to the oppressed, hope to the poor and sight to the blind.
Then, continuing, in the passage read this weekend, Jesus declares that this prophecy has now been fulfilled. In other words, Jesus is the long awaited spokesman of God.
At first, the audience is impressed. But then Jesus recalled an incident, mentioned in the Old Testament, in which God showed mercy upon gentiles.
This mention of divine favor for anyone outside the Chosen People infuriated the audience in the synagogue so much that they tried to murder Jesus. He, of course, escaped.
The readings very much put us, as humans, in our place. It is a place that we do not readily acknowledge. It is a realization that we are quite limited, as a human race, and as individual humans, in our ability to perceive and to judge. Thus it was with the contemporaries of Jeremiah. Thus it was with the persons whom Jesus offended in the synagogue.
The mysteries revealed in the liturgies of Christmas, the Epiphany and the Lord’s Baptism say quite directly that God has not left us to our doom. He has supplied what we lack because of our limitation. He has given us strength, through grace, and the truth, revealed ultimately in Christ Jesus.
As the Gospel makes clear, no one is beyond God’s mercy. But, we must do our part in receiving this mercy. We must love others, with the pure love as pure described by St. Paul.
First, however, we must face the fact that we need God.
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