What an emotional swing! Short time ago people in the synagogue of Nazareth looked at Jesus with admiration, and now they burst in murderous anger against him. What wrong has he done? Or isn’t it just some kind of childhood envy surfacing? Let’s see what message this has for us.
Jeremiah 1: 4–5, 17–19
Psalm 71: 1–6, 15, 17
1 Corinthians 12: 31—13 13
Luke 4: 21–30
What’s gone wrong so suddenly?
The Gospel of this Sunday continues from last Sunday’s, where Jesus announced in the synagogue his mission by reading a text from the prophet Isaiah. He has come to bring good news to the poor, liberation to captives, eyesight to the blind and liberation to the oppressed. People, in great admiration, had their eyes fixed on him. Surprisingly, that doesn’t last long; suddenly things just turn sour and people just want to finish with Jesus by throwing him off the top of the escarpment. What’s the matter?
Envy, from childhood war
Do you remember your childhood? If you don’t, then, just observe children at play and before long you will be shocked to see how children too can battle quite dangerously. Where does that come from? Often from the desire to have everything for oneself. Everything should be for me and the other has no right to possess anything -their behaviour seems to declare. No wonder, the most interesting, and indeed the most wanted, toy is that one which the other child is using. That’s why children find themselves in a tug of war -fighting for the same object. Unfortunately, such babyish avarice can follow us to adulthood -so the battle continues. Our families, groups, places of work, and even parishes can testify.
Them too? Envy at work
The message of liberation that Jesus announces, the people who listen to him in the synagogue think it’s for them alone. It’s unthinkable that pagans, whom they consider as dirty dogs, should also be associated with this favour that God wants to offer his people. But Jesus does not carry a separatist message. He’s the image of God in whom every person is a beloved daughter and a beloved son of the father. Hence, his message is not for few privileged people, but universal message for humanity. Salvation is not a right of inheritance that circulates in the family; it’s an offer that each person chooses to receive, or refuse; Jew or pagan, there’s no difference. God has done that before, and he will do it again; he showed his favour to the widow of Zarephath and to Naaman the pagan leper. No one has the monopoly over God’s kindness.
But it’s inacceptable!
Putting despised pagans into limelight is not only inacceptable, it’s also an insult to the chosen people. Who is this one who comes to throw children’s bread to little dogs? We had better finish with him! That’s how Jesus finds himself in danger among his own people. See how murderous the ideas can be, which we harbour about God, about ourselves and about others! These people, according to the image they have forged, think they know how God should act; bless them and punish pagans. Here’s their prayer:
“Have mercy upon us, O God of all,
and put all the nations in fear of you.
Lift up your hand against foreign nations
and let them see your might....”
Yet, the God of Jesus is a Father of all; he pours his favours on persons without looking at their name, face, language, country or colour. In him, humanity is one. That comes across strongly especially in the gospel according to Luke, which carries a message of hope to the lowly and the marginalised, like pagans and those who are considered as sinners. But such bounty of God, for some people, it’s a ball on the throat.
Are we different?
Well, begin with the image you have of God, look at the image you have of yourself, and finally the image you have of others. In your family, group or place of work; who deserves praise? Who should get the promotion? Do you accept that it be someone else, not you?
The inflated image we may have of ourselves, and the desire to have everything in our lap, may be an obstacle in our interaction with others. Then, we come to realise that we hold a grudge against someone not necessarily because of the wrong they have done against us; we simply battle against God’s bounty. We don’t tolerate that something good can be found also in another person’s court.
What would I like to hear?
The gospel can inspire us to reflect also on our attitude towards not only God’s word but also what others say. What do I want to hear? Perhaps those who tell me: you’re right, that’s good or only those words that support my position. Then, we are not surprised to see that the overcrowded worshipping places are those that have a unique message: promising blessing and success. Yet, we know too well, when God sends prophets is not just to caress people with sweet, soothing messages. A prophet is also sent to denounce what’s ungodly and inhuman; he has a double mission, deconstructing and constructing. That’s the mission God entrusts to Jeremiah as prophet, it’s the same mission of Jesus -and it’s ours too.
Mission to radiate love for all persons
Yes, Lord, we are the chosen people whom you love so much; and you send us to radiate your universal love. At times we fail, chocked by ball of envy and jealousy. Give us to welcome your word that you address us through the prophets of our time, so that renewed by it, we may not only rejoice in your favour that you show to every person but that we may also be witnesses of your love for every person.
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