Sunday, February 3, 2013

Homily for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Feb. 3, 2013
Luke 4: 21-30
Ursulines, Willow Dr., N.R.

“They rose up and drove him out of the town” (Luke 4: 29).
Nazareth. Superstock Photo.
Our gospel reading today picks up where last week’s left off, even repeating a transitional verse.

It’s an astounding passage.  At one moment Jesus’ compatriots are “all speaking highly of him and are amazed at his gracious words” (4:22), and the next moment they’re trying to kill him.  Perhaps Luke has conflated more than one episode from Nazareth.  Perhaps he’s so drastically synthesized Jesus’ sermon that we’re missing too much of it to figure out what caused such a mood swing on the congregation’s part or why Jesus suddenly seems to provoke them with his remarks about Elijah and Elisha.

In any case, the Synoptics agree that Jesus wasn’t well received in his hometown, all referencing his family and quoting Jesus about prophets without honor.  Mark comments:  “He wasn’t able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.  He was amazed at their lack of faith” (6:5-6), and Matthew’s even starker:  “He didn’t work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith” (13:58).

Perhaps the people of Nazareth resent that he left them, settled in Capernaum, and was going all over Galilee preaching and healing.  Did they want to keep him and his powerful preaching and healings for themselves, and make Nazareth a center of religious pilgrimage (with the fame and the economic advantages thereof)?  Were they jealous that such an ordinary fellow had suddenly become “somebody,” the way people might get jealous of a lottery winner or an American Idol star in their circle of acquaintances?

Jesus’ hometown and even his own family don’t accept his teaching, the Synoptics agree.  They’re a microcosm of the whole Jewish people, of whom St. John writes, “He came to his own, and his own didn’t receive him” (1:11).  What the Nazarenes attempt, in Luke’s telling, to kill Jesus (4:29), the whole people as represented by the Sanhedrin and a mob at Pilate’s court, will succeed in doing.

If the people of Nazareth were jealous of Capernaum because Jesus had made his home there and was working miracles there—“Do here in your native place the things that were done in Capernaum” (4:23)—the people of Capernaum ultimately aren’t any better off than the Nazarenes.  Jesus elsewhere in both Luke and Matthew denounces the lack of faith of the people of Capernaum, along with the people of other lakeside towns who haven’t responded to his preaching and his healings by repenting:  “As for you, Capernaum:  ‘Will you be exalted to heaven?  You will go down to the netherworld.’  For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.  But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you” (Matt 11:23-24; cf. Luke 10:15).

Why do we come to Jesus?  What do we want from Jesus?

Are we looking for a show, for entertainment, regarding his miracles as something like watching Houdini or David Copperfield?  That seems to have been King Herod’s desire:  “he had been wanting to see him for a long time, for he had heard about him and had been hoping to see him perform some sign,” Luke’s words (23:8), vividly portrayed in Jesus Christ Superstar:  “So you are the Christ, the great Jesus Christ!  Prove to me that you’re divine—change my water into wine,” etc.  (It’s a really catchy tune!)

Are we looking for Jesus to do something for us?  To make our life easier somehow?  To relieve us of our day-to-day worries?  To make someone else easier to live with?

Assuredly, there are some things we might well look for from Jesus.  When we listen to the Lord’s call of Jeremiah to be a prophet, we realize that we need courage and fortitude far beyond our own capabilities to follow our Lord Jesus, whether as ordinary Christians, as religious, or as priest.

When we listen to St. Paul’s description of authentic love, we realize how far short of the ideal we fall, how much help we need to approximate real love.

When we realize that there are things about ourselves that we need to change, or to have God help us change, then we’re closer to what Jesus refers to as faith; closer to the behavior of the widow of Zarephath and of Naaman the leper, who believed and acted upon the words of the prophets; closer to the repentance that Jesus looked for but didn’t find in Nazareth, in Capernaum, or in many other villages.

When we realize how much wisdom and generosity we need to serve others the way Jesus wants us to, then we have something to go to Jesus to ask for.

Jesus’ words are “gracious” (4:22), literally “pleasing” or “charming,” but we may also call them “grace-filled,” when we find in them the power to effect a change in our own hearts—conversion of our attitudes, thence of our words and actions.

What a miracle that is!

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