Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Jeremiah provides the first reading for this weekend. This book is regarded as one of the major Hebrew prophetic works because of its length and the brilliance of its language. Jeremiah descended from priests. He was from a small village, Anathoth, only a few miles away from Jerusalem.
As occurred with many, indeed most, of the prophets, his prophecies drew sharp rebukes. He even was accused of blasphemy, a crime that had death as its punishment in the Hebrew code of law. (It was this statute that centuries later led some to demand the crucifixion of Jesus.)
Despite the ordeals created by these rebukes and accusations, Jeremiah never relented in proclaiming fidelity to God as a personal, and national, imperative and he never doubted that he was on a mission from God in very precise, challenging words.
In this weekend’s reading, Jeremiah recalls the day when God called him to the mission of prophesy. He gives the period of time, the reign of King Josiah, who ruled the Kingdom of Judah from 640 to 609 BC. God told Jeremiah to be bold and predicted the controversial response to Jeremiah’s prophesying, urging the prophet not to be daunted by unfriendly or angry reactions.
As its second reading for this weekend, the Church offers a passage from the First Epistle to the Corinthians. It is one of the most compelling and best known sections of the entire corpus of Pauline literature.
Clear and straightforward, it is the beautiful explanation of love. Few better definitions of love, this ability so vital to and treasured by humans, in nature, exist.
Paul then reveals what happens when a person embraces the Gospel. Knowledge increases. Maturity is reached. The insecurities, smallness and shortsightedness of youth are overcome.
St. Luke’s Gospel is the source of the last reading. Jesus, as the story clearly states, appeared in the synagogue in Nazareth. In earlier verses not part of this weekend’s reading, Jesus stood to read a section of the Book of Isaiah, in which 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 declared that this prophecy has now been fulfilled. In other words, Jesus spoke as the long-awaited spokesman of God.
The audience was outraged, especially when 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 Church remembers the great feasts of Christmas, the Epiphany and that of the Baptism of the Lord in early January when it celebrated the mercy of God that came to us in the Lord Jesus.
Now, building upon this idea of God’s gift of mercy and the possibility of our eternal life, the Church this weekend presents these readings.
As the Gospel made clear, God’s love excludes no one, but all must do their part in receiving divine mercy. We ourselves must love others, with love as pure and unselfish as that described by St. Paul.
Granted, it is more easily said than done. Reactions to Jeremiah and to Jesus remind us that human insights are limited and self-centered. We can be bitter and angry in our selfishness and short-sightedness.
God supplies us with what we cannot find or create on our own, eternal life but also genuine wisdom. Thus, God sent Jeremiah. Thus, God sent Jesus to us.
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