Sunday, February 3, 2013

Scripture Readings: The Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time

First Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19

And the word of the Lord came to me, saying: Before I formed you in the bowels of your mother, I knew you: and before you came forth out of the womb, I sanctified you, and made you a prophet unto the nations.
You therefore gird up your loins, and arise, and speak to them all that I command you. Be not afraid at their presence: for I will make you not to fear their countenance. For behold I have made you this day a fortified city, and a pillar of iron, and a wall of brass, over all the land, to the kings of Juda, to the princes thereof, and to the priests, and to the people of the land. And they shall fight against them, and shall not prevail: for I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you.

Second Reading: First Corinthians 12:31-13:13

But be zealous for the better gifts. And I show unto you yet a more excellent way.
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I have become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And if I should have prophecy and should know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 3 And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profits me nothing.
Charity is patient, is kind: charity envies not, deals not perversely, is not puffed up, 5 is not ambitious, seeks not her own, is not provoked to anger, thinks no evil: 6 Rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices with the truth: 7 Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Charity never falls away: whether prophecies shall be made void or tongues shall cease or knowledge shall be destroyed. For we know in part: and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child. 12 We see now through a glass in a dark manner: but then face to face. Now I know in part: but then I shall know even as I am known. And now there remain faith, hope, and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity.

Gospel: Luke 4: 21-30

And he began to say to them: This day is fulfilled this scripture in your ears. 22 And all gave testimony to him. And they wondered at the words of grace that proceeded from his mouth. And they said: Is not this the son of Joseph?
            And he said to them: Doubtless you will say to me this similitude: Physician, heal yourself. As great things as we have heard done in Capharnaum, do also here in your own country.
And he said: Amen I say to you that no prophet is accepted in his own country. In truth I say to You, there were many widows in the days of Elias in Israel, when heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there was a great famine throughout all the earth. And to none of them was Elias sent, but to Sarepta of Sidon, to a widow woman. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet: and none of them was cleansed but Naaman the Syrian.
And all they in the synagogue, hearing these things, were filled with anger. 29 And they rose up and thrust him out of the city: and they brought him to the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong. 30 But he passing through the midst of them, went his way.

            Another week where the epistle overshadows the Gospel somewhat. I mean, let’s face it; Paul’s dissertation on Love is a lot more central to the Christian faith than the near-riot caused by Jesus’ homily. And yet, I’m going to pass over Paul for now and talk about the Gospel.
            We pick up with Jesus immediately after last week (as in, literally on the very next verse), where He gives a very short explanation of the Scripture Reading by simply identifying it with Himself. Imagine the priest getting up one Sunday, reading a prophecy about the coming Messiah, saying “it’s me,” and sitting down again. It’s really not much of a surprise that people reacted badly.            
            There’s an interesting turn of phrase at the start of this passage: it doesn’t say “And He said to them” but “And He began to say to them.” This, I think, has two meanings: one, Jesus intended to say more on the subject, but was rudely interrupted by the crowd talking about him. Two, this is only the beginning of Christ’s revelation; therefore, He has only begun to identify Himself to the people, a process that will consume the next three years…or, depending on how you understand ‘them,’ the rest of history.
            But what bothers the people, and continues to, is the fact that Jesus is so very ordinary (they know Him; they’ve watched Him grow up), and what He is saying is so very…not. What we have here is the exact same thing that we run into so often today. It’s the fact that it’s really very hard to believe in the miraculous. And I don’t just mean for atheists or non-believers (or even for those rather sad types who claim to be Christian, but try to explain away all the miracles). Even for faithful, believing Catholics it can be quite a challenge to really accept the miraculous. Or at least, there’s a kind of unspoken assumption that miracles were all very well and good in Jesus’ day, or in the Middle Ages, or something, but here and now, in our very stable, very sensible world, they just don’t happen, do they? (I’ll pass on the charming assumption that our world is either stable or sensible, since I don’t want to be here all day).
             What this passage reminds us of is that Jesus’ world was just as (*snort*) stable and sensible as ours; his neighbors were farmers, carpenters, tent-makers, and millers; highly practical people who worked with their hands and knew exactly how the natural world worked. And, just like us, they probably had the vague notion that the time of miracles was over; that miracles were somehow less miraculous in good-old Jeremiah’s day. But no; miracles are shocking whenever they happen.
            It’s so easy to picture God working in a kind of fantasy world; a dream-like state where the normal rules and everyday concerns don’t apply. For instance, the people of Nazareth apparently had some notion that the Messiah would come trailing clouds of glory out of the sky, or something; that He would somehow be ‘other’ than their normal day-to-day lives.
            But, the truth is, He was one of their neighbors; the guy who had probably worked on their houses or built their furniture. And seeing Him standing there being so very ordinary, so very everyday, it’s no wonder they couldn’t believe Him.
            We don’t expect the Divine, or the miraculous, or the fantastic to occur in the midst of ordinary life. We expect that a miracle will somehow happen differently than everything else; so when it just matter-of-factly happens, we’re all the more dumbfounded.
To get an idea what I mean, picture seeing St. Thomas Aquinas levitating. I imagine that you are, consciously or not, picturing bright light, music, and other accompaniments to signal how miraculous the event was. But the truth of the matter is that seeing St. Thomas fly was probably not a whole lot different than seeing him kneel; no lights, no music, just a slight change in position. In short, it simply happens the same way anything else does, the only difference being that it ordinarily shouldn’t.
What’s my point in all this? Simply that we shouldn’t be too proud or too skeptical to see the divine at work in our daily lives. If we are Christians, then we must believe that God is intimately involved in everything that happens in the world. This, of course, gives us hard questions when evil arises, but we’ll leave those for now in favor of this; the very ordinariness of our daily lives conceals God, just as the very ordinariness of Jesus did.

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