4th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
I hope you realize that this Sunday we read from the Gospel of Luke, continuing immediately from last week's Gospel. Remember that in last Sunday's Gospel, Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah and announced that this Scripture was now fulfilled. In today's Gospel, we learn that the people of Nazareth are impressed by Jesus' words, and yet they seem surprised. They still think of Jesus as merely Joseph's son. They do not expect such words from someone they believe that they know is of low profile.
And so Jesus’ inaugural sermon in his home town does not go well. His home town men question his authority and training. The scribes were the trained teachers of Scriptures. Pharisees were similar to lay theologians, well versed in scriptures but not necessarily scholars of the law. And since sons followed their fathers’ trade, we can assume that St. Joseph is neither a scripture scholar nor a theologian so they wonder as to where then could Jesus’ preaching draw substance from?
Jesus answers their suspicion by claiming to be a prophet. He identifies himself with Elijah and Elisha, prophets who challenged people to discover that God is more inclusive than we tend to be. The most important part of a prophet’s job description is not what most of us think; it is to announce God’s Word to the people, even when it is challenging. A prophet speaks for God, announcing to the people God’s law. The consequences of doing this are the same: to suffer, to be rejected and to be persecuted.
The role of the Church is to be a prophet in this same sense and surely the Church has always suffered because of this. As we speak today the Church is undergoing a moment of persecution both from within and from its outside adversaries. We see in the prophets how the role of speaking about social-political alliances and speaking about peace and speaking about morality and biblical ethics turned to be their suffering and fate. This is true of the Church today. There is so much hostility to the Church and its leaders because some people think the Church
deprives them of their “liberty” to do things the way they feel. But the Church is simply fulfilling its prophetic role: to announce God’s Word that amidst of what we think is liberty, “let God be God.” It is this faithfulness to God’s Word that makes life so difficult for a prophet and for the Church.
We Catholics believe in the Church, that group of believers who have handed down the Holy Scriptures. We believe that there is an authority in the Church that can interpret, when necessary, what is to be believed. We believe that the Church has an authority to tell us how to understand difficult parts of the Scripture.
And in this, the Church mirrors so clearly Jesus in today’s Gospel. There are all kinds of ways to put aside Jesus’ own authority: he is the son of Joseph, what could he know? How can he possibly speak with any religious
authority when he has no special training? Who does he think that he is?
The same is what happens with the Church: how could this Church speak with any authority when she has been responsible for certain evil deeds in the past; when some of her priests have committed such terrible crimes; when we see how human it is? They say this Church has no more insight into the Scriptures than any other Church or scholar—so what gives it the right to claim some special role?
Now, in such a hostile environment how are we to carry on our witness? Well, I think the only answer to this is what is in today’s second reading, about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Love is at the heart of all of the teachings of our Lord Jesus. We cannot be afraid to bear witness to the Word of God in fear of rejection and suffering. All we need to do as Church members is to strive to bear our witness to the Word of God as instructed by the second reading: to do everything with Love. Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.