Sunday, Feb. 3, is the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C).
Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19; Psalm 71:1-6, 15-17; 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13 or 13:4-13; Luke 4:21-30
Today’s Gospel reading shows how fickle people can be toward Jesus — and its lesson applies directly to Jesus in the Western world in the 21st century.
Jesus addresses a hometown audience and reads a Scripture passage about the Messiah, applying it to himself. At first, his townspeople are enthralled. "All spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth," says the Gospel.
But their reaction quickly sours. First, they remember his origins. "Isn’t this the son of Joseph?" they ask. Perhaps they remembered that he comes from a family that is all too human.
Then they want him to prove himself. They want their native son to do the wonders at home that he has done elsewhere. Jesus doesn’t only refuse to impress them or show that he is better than his background — he points out that God doesn’t play hometown favorites.
"There were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah," says Jesus. "It was to none of these that Elijah was sent," but to a foreigner in another land. He gives other examples as well.
But, in a flash, he went from proud son to local disgrace. The Gospel says that "they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong."
At the end of the Gospel is a curious phrase: "But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away." Jesus simply made himself unavailable for execution. This passage is a good one to keep in mind on Good Friday. He certainly could have passed through the Romans in the same way, but, instead, he chose to die for our sins.
This passage is also something to keep in mind in the Western world during this Year of Faith. Jesus, from the first, made a home in the West. Rome became the hometown of his body, the Church. The expansion of Europe and its colonies became synonymous with the expansion of Christianity. You could say that for centuries in the West "all spoke highly of him." Then the West started to focus on how all-too-human Jesus’ family, the Church, has been.
Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, when he visited Benedictine College three years ago, commented on this phenomenon of his own people getting "tired" of Jesus. "Sometimes I have the impression that what we are living now in Europe is exactly described in this scene," the cardinal said. "We are Nazareth. … We are tired of him."
"Lord, do not abandon us," he added.
As more and more in America seem to be forcing him out of the public square, workplaces and our schools, we can pray the same thing in America.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.