Introduction: The central theme of today’s readings is that we should have and show in our communities the courage of our Christian convictions in our Faith and in its practice, even when we face hatred and rejection because of them.
Scripture lessons: The first reading tells us how God called Jeremiah as His prophet and equipped him to face opposition and rejection. In living out his prophetic vocation while encountering rejection and persecution, Jeremiah prefigured Jesus, the greatest of all prophets. The Responsorial Psalm, Ps 71, offers us a prayer in time of persecution and a declaration of our trust in God with its foundation in Him. In the second reading, we hear Paul speaking with the courage of his convictions in correcting the Corinthian Christian community where the exercise of God’s gifts was causing competition, jealousy and divisiveness. He courageously presents to them a “way” which surpasses all others, namely, the way of love, and instructs them to exercise their gifts with love. Today’s Gospel is a continuation of last Sunday’s Gospel presenting his own people’s negative reaction to Jesus’ “Inaugural Address” at the synagogue of Nazareth when he applies to Himself the words of Isaiah 61, announcing a new time of jubilee, liberation and healing in God’s name. The passage shows us how Jesus faced skepticism and criticism with prophetic courage. Jeremiah, Paul and Jesus believed that they were commissioned by God to proclaim a disturbing prophetic message (Jer 1:4-5, 17-19). No matter how strong the opposition, the three had the conviction that God was with them.
Life messages: 1) We need to face rejection with prophetic courage and optimism. Perhaps we have experienced the pain of rejection, betrayal, abandonment, violated trust, neglect or abuse, even from friends and family members, when we reached out to them as God’s agents of healing and saving grace. Perhaps we ourselves are guilty of such rejection. Perhaps we, too, have been guilty of ignoring or humiliating people with our arrogance and prejudice. Let us learn to correct our mistakes and face rejection from others with courage. 2) Let us not, like the people in Jesus’ hometown, reject God in our lives. We reject God when we are unwilling to be helped by God, or by others. Such unwillingness prevents us from recognizing God’s directions, help and support in our lives through His words in the Bible, through the teaching of the Church, and through the advice and examples of others. 3) We need to follow Christ, not political correctness, and to speak the truth of Christ without being hypocritical or disrespectful. We must never remain silent in the face of evil for fear of being thought “politically incorrect.” Jesus taught us to love and respect others without condoning or encouraging sinful behavior. We need to be kind, charitable, honest and forgiving, but clear in speaking out our Christian convictions as Jesus was when he spoke in the synagogue at Nazareth.
(Jer 1:4-5, 17-19; 1 Cor 12:31—13:13; Lk 4:21-30)
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Anecdotes # 1: The prophetic call and the fear of rejection: Moses tried to convince God that he didn’t speak well enough, and Jeremiah complained to God that he was too young. The prophets trembled at the trials ahead of them – and with good reason. Israel had a long history of rejecting prophets (2 Chr 36:16; Jer 2:30; Amos 2:12; Matt 23:37; Luke 13:34; I Thes 2:15; Heb 11:32ff.). Jeremiah was threatened with death several times, thrown into an empty, muddy cistern, imprisoned, dragged off to exile in Egypt, and, perhaps, most painful of all, was forced to watch the destruction of Jerusalem because its inhabitants would not listen to his message. At least twice in his lifetime, the prophet Elijah spoke the truth of God to King Ahab of Israel concerning the King’s promotion of idolatry. As a result, Elijah was forced to flee into the wilderness where he suffered great privation (I Kgs 16:29–17:3 and I Kgs 18:16–19:4). John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States and the son of a former President, reportedly said that he would rather clean filth from the streets than be President. Scripture tells us that most of the prophets shared John Quincy Adams’ feeling of inadequacy to their calling. Today’s Gospel story is another example of why the prophets did not jump for joy at their career prospects. In the space of five verses, we see the people of Nazareth turn from amazement to such fury at Jesus’ words they seized Him and dragged him off to the cliff to murder him. Speaking God’s truth by word or by deed is a risky business even today. Hundreds of missionaries have been martyred since 1990. Thousands of Christians have been killed this past year in Moslem countries and Communist countries. Christians are subjected to the white martyrdom of mental torture in advanced countries, including the U.S., by the agnostic and atheistic media and liberal politicians and judges, as forms of the media constantly ridicule and insult Christians with unprecedented vengeance.
# 2: Facing rejection, Martin Luther King style: April 16, 1963, almost fifty-six years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. offended a lot of people by writing a letter from a Birmingham jail.). He wrote that letter to Church people, to the pastors. He said, “Now is the time. God wills that all his children be free. God wills that all his children be given an equal chance in this life.” He challenged the Church to believe that what the Scripture says, applies to “now.” Not to sometime later, not to when everything is ready, but now. Not some other time, but right now. Martin Luther King, Jr. said a generation ago, “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet you physical force with soul force. Throw us in jail, and we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half-dead and we will still love you. But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory. For love is the most durable power in the world.” (https://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html
# 3: Liberation for Dalits through Jesus: High castes represent a small minority in India, some 10-15% of the population, yet they dominated Indian society in much the same way whites ruled South Africa during the official period of Apartheid. For centuries, Indian society lived under a rigid caste system imposed by the high caste Hindus in which each person was born into a set social group. People who were born into the highest social group, or caste, used to receive the benefits of honor respect and privileges. Then, there are different levels, or castes, below this. A person’s caste at birth determined what job he could have, whom he could marry, and what rights he had in his society. On the very lowest rungs of society were the Dalits, whose name actually means “broken, crushed.” The Dalits were the targets of violence and discrimination in Indian society for long time. Fortunately, formal discrimination no longer exists under the new law. But now, the Dalits face persecution for another reason: their Faith. Nearly 70% of Indian Christians are Dalits. The reserved 22.5 percent of all government and semi-government jobs, including seats in Parliament and state legislatures, is available only to Dalits who follow Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism, but Dalit Christians and Muslims are not protected as castes under Indian Reservation policy. The legal reason is that there is caste system in Christianity and Islam. The Christian Faith was quite attractive to the Dalits. They chose to follow Christ even when they knew the consequences they might face including the denial of free education and job reservation given to Hindu Dalits. Why would the Hindu Dalits, who were targets of discrimination and abuse, invite more such treatment by becoming Christians? Because in Christ, they meet a God of liberation Who loves and lifts up those whom others would tear down. His heart is with those who suffer. He cares about those who are hurting, who are helpless, who are brokenhearted, who are in bondage. They consider Jesus as their Divine liberator, and God of justice. [Timothy Merrill, “Giving Flesh to the Word,” Homiletics, (July-August 1999).]
Introduction: The central theme of today’s readings is that we should have and show the courage of our Christian convictions in our day-to-day lives in our communities, when we face hatred and rejection because of our Christian Faith. In both the first reading and the Gospel, Jeremiah and Jesus are presented as prophets, chosen, consecrated and sent to their brothers and sisters as emissaries of the Word of God. The first reading tells us how God called Jeremiah as His prophet and equipped him to face opposition and rejection. In his prophetic vocation, which he lived out while encountering rejection and persecution, Jeremiah anticipated Jesus, the greatest of all prophets. Today’s Responsorial Psalm (71), expresses the feelings of one who encounters opposition but trusts deeply in God’s protection, and determines to continue his proclamations of God’s Justice and wondrous deeds in spite of the negative response. In the second reading, we hear Paul speaking with the courage of his convictions in correcting the Corinthian Christian community where the exercise of God’s gifts was causing competition, jealousy and divisiveness. He courageously presents to them a “way” which surpasses all others, namely, the way of love. He warns them that, if exercised without love, even the gifts of tongues, knowledge, Faith and generosity are useless. Then Paul spells out for them and us the true nature of love. Today’s Gospel is a continuation of last Sunday’s Gospel, presenting his own people’s reaction to Jesus’ “Inaugural Address.” The reading shows us how Jesus faced skepticism and criticism with prophetic courage. Along with Jeremiah, Jesus and Paul believed that they were commissioned by God to proclaim a disturbing prophetic message (Jer 1:4-5, 17-19). No matter how strong the opposition, the three had the conviction that God was with them.
First reading, Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19, explained: Today’s first reading prepares us to hear the Gospel, Luke 4:21-30, where Jesus, early in his mission, faces stiff opposition and compares himself to the prophets who had come before him. In both the first reading and the gospel, Jeremiah and Jesus are presented as God’s prophets (prophetes in Greek means mouthpiece), chosen, consecrated and sent to their brothers and sisters as emissaries of the Word of God The prophet Jeremiah (600-550 BC) never held back in describing the persecution he suffered. Here in the first sentences of his book, Jeremiah describes how God called him, bolstered up his Faith and courage and predicted the opposition he would endure. Speaking to Jeremiah, God makes four assertions: “I formed you” (as a potter forms clay), “I knew you” (referring to the intimate relationship between God and Jeremiah), “I dedicated you” (consecrating Jeremiah to do God’s work), and “I appointed you” (to a mission as His prophet to Israel). At the start of Jeremiah’s ministry, Yahweh warns the young prophet not to be intimidated by those to whom he prophesies (Jer 1:4-5, 17-19). “They will fight against you,” Yahweh warns, “but will not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you.” During his lifetime, Jeremiah was considered a total failure, but in later times he has been recognized as one of Israel’s greatest prophets. Jeremiah is a wonderful example of “the triumph of failure.”
Second Reading, 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13, explained: There were diverse manifestations of the gifts of the Holy Spirit among the Christians living in the Greek seaport of Corinth. Paul spends chapters 12, 13 and 14 of this letter trying to get the Corinthians to enjoy and express their gifts in ways that give strength to the community and glory to God. Paul is addressing a community on the verge of self-destruction because of the Corinthians’ inability to recognize that Jesus is present in each member of the community. So, he advises them to use their spiritual gifts for the unification of the Church, by humble submission to lawful authorities, by bidding farewell to rivalries, and by the re-direction of their efforts toward mutual service. Paul also warns them that, if exercised without love, even the gifts of tongues, knowledge, Faith, prophecy, and generosity are useless. So, he instructs them to recognize Christ in one another and to treat each other accordingly. The only way for them, and for us, to treat others is with love. Paul concludes the chapter by affirming that even the greatest of virtues, Faith and Hope, cannot exist without Love, the driving force of all life in time, and in eternity, the only virtue to survive.
Exegesis of the Gospel passage: Amazement turning to hatred. The first reaction of the people in the synagogue to Jesus’ words was one of astonishment. They were amazed that one of their fellow villagers could speak with such grace and eloquence and with such authority. Luke says they were “amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips,” because they knew him only as a carpenter from a poor family, with no formal training in Mosaic Law. But their amazement turned into displeasure when, during his “Inaugural Address” or “Mission Statement,” Jesus took upon himself the identity of a prophet, different from the image of the miracle-worker that people wished to see. Jesus came to his hometown people as a prophet with healing in his hands, mercy in his heart, and salvation for all in his words. Like the other prophets of the past, Jesus directly called upon people to relinquish their selfishness, faithlessness, their lack of justice and mercy (Mic 6:6-8), and their sinfulness. Hence, their displeasure turned into anger when Jesus claimed that he was the promised Messiah of Isaiah’s prophecy. They challenged his Messianic claim, asking, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” They could not understand how a mere carpenter could be the Messiah who would liberate them from Roman rule and reestablish the Davidic kingdom. ‘Doctor, cure yourself! It means “Do not be like a bad physician, who professes medical knowledge to his patients but does not know how to treat himself.”(As several commentators point out, the challenge of “Physician, heal yourself!” in Nazareth is probably meant to be paralleled with “If you are the ‘King of the Jews,’ then save yourself,” the taunt at the end of the Gospel, as Jesus hangs on the cross dying. In a sense “Physician, heal yourself” is paralleled with “Saviour, save yourself” Dr. Watson.) Jesus explained their attitude by saying “No prophet is accepted in his native place.” Jesus clearly establishes himself as a figure in the prophetic line, a theme that Luke will highlight repeatedly, in order to show that Jesus is in continuity with (and not a break from) the earlier tradition of Judaism.
Jesus’ reaction to His people’s skepticism: In response to his townsmen’s skepticism, Jesus referred to the Biblical stories of how God blessed two Gentiles, while rejecting the many Jews in similar situations. The reason for this was that these Gentiles were more open to the prophets than the Jewish people. First, Jesus reminded them of the Gentile widow of Zarephath, a village on the coast of present-day Lebanon, near Sidon (1 Kings 17:7-24). The Prophet Elijah stayed with her and her son during last year of the three-and-a-half-year drought that preceded Elijah’s part in the Lord God’s victory over the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Because of her kindness to the prophet, and the Faith her willingness to take him in as his God’s messenger demonstrated, the widow’s small jar of flour and tiny jug of oil were never depleted. Later, when the widow’s son died, Elijah’s prayers revived him from the dead. No Israelite received such a blessing.
Naaman’s healing presented as reward of Faith: Then Jesus recalled for his listeners of the story of Naaman, the Syrian Military General (II Kings 7:3-10). Naaman had contracted leprosy. But when he heard that the Prophet Elisha had the power to heal, he appealed to the prophet for help. At Elisha’s word, Naaman bathed seven times in the Jordan, after which his leprosy was healed and his skin was restored, becoming like that of a child. There were many lepers in Israel at the time, commented Jesus, but only this foreigner was healed because he had Faith in the man of God. Today, that same healing, mercy and salvation should be available to all through the Church. “In the minds of his Jewish listeners, it was offense enough to be reminded that Elijah ministered to a poor Gentile widow, but it was intolerable to be oppressed by Roman occupation, and then be reminded that Elisha healed a soldier of Syria, a country which had oppressed Israel in an earlier time.” (Craig A. Evans, The Lectionary Commentary, Vol. 3: The Third Readings, p. 326).
Total rejection and attempted murder: Jesus’ words also implied that, like the Israelites of those former days, the people of his hometown, were unable to receive miracles because of their disbelief. That was why in former times God had bestowed miracles on the Gentiles who believed in Him. Jesus, like the earlier prophets (Jer 37:12–38:6; Mal 1:2, 6, 7, 13; Mic 3:5-8), dared to speak the Truth to people who did not want to hear it. By using Scriptural precedents, Jesus stresses that, if he does not receive a welcome in, or support from, his own community, he will certainly be well within his rights to extend his ministry beyond the bounds of the Jewish nation, and to reach out to the Gentiles, just as the great prophets of old did. Jesus’ reference to the unbelief of the Jews and to the stronger Faith of the Gentiles infuriated his listeners. “Good” people don’t like to be reminded that God can and does work through religious systems other than their own and even through individuals who are outside any religious system. Jesus’ citing evidence from authoritative sources to prove that the Lord had compassion on Israel’s enemies was perceived as a threat to the intensely nationalistic Galileans. Consequently, the attitude of many of the townsfolk swung from proud admiration to hatred, resentment and violence. Hence, without a trial or even a hearing and in violation of both Jewish and Roman Law, his townspeople rushed to seize Jesus in order to throw him over the edge of the cliff on which their town was built. (This site cannot be located with any certainty. Tradition, however, associates this account with the cliff called the “Mount of Precipitation/Mount of the Leap,” just under 2 miles outside Nazareth. Others suggest a hill in the ridge of local mountains called the Jebel Nazra, or “Nazareth Hill”). But Jesus escaped because “his hour had not yet come.” This rejection of Jesus by his own townsfolk must have sincerely grieved him. Later John wrote, “To his own he came but his own did not accept him” (John 1:11). This rejection in Nazareth foreshadowed or anticipated the opposition and rejection that Jesus would experience in the coming years, culminating with his crucifixion. This rejection by his own friends in Nazareth is the first of his crucifixions, and Luke speaks of the brow of the hill to remind us of Calvary, and the threat of what will happen on that hill. Jesus, in spite of all the rejections and crucifixions, now passes through our midst serenely and out of our grasp and slips away, when we have said ‘No thanks,’ and shown our choice for something less.” (Rev. Grant Gallup). Today’s Gospel tells us that prophets are rarely accepted among their own people. The pacifism of Dorothy Day, for example, was an embarrassment to the hierarchy. Archbishop Blessed Oscar Romero was hated by those in power, not simply because of his commitment to liberation theology and his advocacy of the poor, but because he was seen as opposing the ruling upper classes who felt the Church was “their own.”
Life messages: 1) Let us face rejection with prophetic courage and optimism. The story of Jesus’ rejection in his own hometown is a story that we can identify with, because it is a story that has happened to most of us. Perhaps we have experienced the pain of rejection, betrayal, abandonment, violated trust, neglect or abuse. What about rejection by those closest to us? Often our friends, families, or childhood companions fail to listen to us, refuse our advice and reject the words of grace, love and encouragement that we offer to them because they are unable to see us as God’s appointed instruments, the agents of God’s healing and saving grace. Perhaps we ourselves are guilty of such rejection. How often have we discounted people through prejudice? We must realize that God’s power is always available to transform even the most unlikely people and that His power may come to us through unlikely instruments.
2) Let us not, like the people in Jesus’ hometown, reject God in our lives. The story of Jesus’ rejection by his townsfolk is also a story about how we often ignore and reject God. Are we unwilling to be helped by God, or by others? Does our pride or lack of trust stop us from seeing or recognizing God’s purpose? Does it prevent us from recognizing God’s direction, help and support in our lives through His words in the Bible and through the advice and examples of others? God calls us in many ways. Are we willing to listen to this calling and discover our role in carrying out God’s purpose?
3) We must have the prophetic courage of our convictions. By our Baptism, God calls us to be prophets like Jesus, sharing his prophetic mission. The task of a prophet is to speak and to live out God’s truth. We must never be afraid of this call, for it is Jesus who will supply us with the courage, the words and the deeds we will need to oppose the many evils in our society. By legalizing abortion in 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed the killing of over forty-seven million unborn children in forty years. The Roe versus Wade decision is currently permitting the brutal execution of 4400 unborn babies every day. Our television and movie conglomerates, which are supported by the money paid by millions of Americans and many large corporate sponsors, are spewing forth pornographic material that is poisoning our children and our society. Our society tells adults and youngsters that promiscuous sex, drugs, gambling and alcohol are legitimate pleasures for modern, liberated people. Our country needs to hear God’s Truth from Spirit-filled Christians with the prophetic courage of their convictions. Heroes like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King consistently refused to retaliate violently while affirming the dignity of every person, including their enemies.
4) We need to follow Christ, not political correctness, and to speak the truth of Christ without being hypocritical or disrespectful. We must never remain silent in the face of evil for fear of being thought “politically incorrect.” Jesus was not against conflict if it promoted truth. He taught us to give respect and freedom without condoning or encouraging sinful behavior. That was the example given by Martin Luther King and his civil rights marchers singing, “We shall overcome,” as they were carted off to jail, were washed down with fire hoses and had savage Alsatian dogs loosed on them. Love does not tolerate destructive behavior, but it sometimes causes pain–just as a surgeon must sometimes hurt in order to heal. We need to be kind, charitable, honest, forgiving and clear in speaking out our Christian convictions as Jesus was when He spoke in the synagogue. We live in a pluralistic society, but as the American Bishops say in their document Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics “Real pluralism depends on people of conviction struggling to advance their beliefs by every ethical and legal means at their disposal.”
JOKE OF THE WEEK
# 1: Rejection at the Pearly Gate: A cab driver reaches the Pearly Gates and announces his presence to St. Peter, who looks him up in his Big Book. Upon reading the entry for the cabby, St. Peter invites him to grab a silk robe and a golden staff and to proceed into Heaven. A preacher is next in line behind the cabby and has been watching these proceedings with interest. He announces himself to St. Peter. Upon scanning the preacher’s entry in the Big Book, St. Peter furrows his brow and says, “Okay, we’ll let you in, but you will have only a cotton robe and wooden staff.” The preacher is astonished and replies, “But I am a man of the cloth. You gave that cab driver a gold staff and a silk robe. Surely, I rate higher than a cabby.” St. Peter responded matter-of-factly: “Here we are interested in results. When you preached, people slept. When the cabby drove his taxi, people prayed.”
# 2: Rejection resulting in the resignation of the pastor: There was a feud between the Pastor and the Choir Director of a Baptist church. It seems the first hint of trouble came when the Pastor preached on “Dedicating Oneself to Service” and the Choir Director chose to sing: “I Shall Not Be Moved.” Trying to believe it was a coincidence, the Pastor put the incident behind him. The next Sunday he preached on “giving”. Afterwards, the choir squirmed as the director led them in the hymn: “Jesus Paid It All.” By this time, the Pastor was losing his temper. Sunday morning attendance swelled as the tension between the two built. A large crowd showed up the next week to hear his sermon on the “sin of gossiping.” Would you believe the Choir Director selected, “I Love to Tell the Story.” There was no turning back. The following Sunday the Pastor told the congregation that unless something changed he was considering resignation. The entire church gasped when the Choir Director led them in: “Why Not Tonight?” Truthfully, no one was surprised when the Pastor resigned a week later, explaining that Jesus had led him there and Jesus was leading him away. The Choir Director could not resist singing, “What A Friend We Have In Jesus.”
19- Additional anecdotes: 1) “We hold it to be self-evident, that all people are created equal.” Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream that one day, on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners would be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. He had a dream that one day his four children would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. With this Faith, he believed people could turn the mountain of despair into the mountain of hope, and transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony. Americans are better people because Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream. In his preaching for liberation he did not say anything new. His message was 2000 years old — as old as Jesus’ synagogue speech at Nazareth. He said, “We hold it to be self-evident, that all people are created equal.” Dr. King looked out and saw people who were not treated as equals. He perceived others for whom this truth was not self-evident. So he went from city to city and said, “Today is the day when we will take seriously our own Declaration of Independence.” Gunshots rang out and cut him down. Why? What radical act did he commit which took his life? In the tradition of the Bible’s prophets, he reminded people of what they already knew and said, “Today is the day.” He drew inspiration from the message of total liberation preached by Jesus in his inaugural address at Nazareth and met with the same fate as Jesus did. The theology of liberation, when courageously preached can be costly, costing one his very life itself.
2) An enclave of resistance: In September of 1997 there was a groundbreaking service for a Catholic cathedral that was going to be constructed in Los Angeles. The Diocese of Los Angeles commissioned the famous Spanish architect Jose Rafael Moneo to design the building. Their hope was that the cathedral would be completed by the beginning of the millennium. It was to be a peculiar witness to the glory of God. There were models of the cathedral at the groundbreaking service, and on the basis of the models a Los Angeles Times reporter wrote a review of the cathedral. This is a part of what the reporter said: “Moneo is creating an alternate world to the everyday world that surrounds the cathedral, a testimony to grandeur of the human spirit, an antidote to a world that is increasingly spiritually empty.” Then he wrote this sentence: “The cathedral, set in the midst of the secular city, will be an enclave of resistance.” What an image . . . the Church an enclave of resistance. The words “an enclave of resistance” should be a part of the mission statement of every Church in the city, “an enclave of resistance against all that diminishes human life” (“An Enclave of Resistance,” a sermon preached by Rev. Mark Trotter, San Diego, California, October 5, 1997). Today’s Gospel, presenting Jesus, the liberator, challenges us to become enclaves of resistance to the attacks on Christians by the atheistic and agnostic media and liberal politicians and judges.
3) We are at war for liberation: Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council recalls a newspaper article about a teacher who had taught in the public schools of Los Angeles. She had been a good teacher. But then she went to start her own family and left the profession. She and her husband had three children. They raised them well, and not too long ago they sent the last one off to college. This teacher decided she wanted to go back to the teaching profession. She applied and was accepted and she wrote in the Los Angeles Times about her first day back in a seventh-grade class, after nearly twenty years away from teaching. She spoke about her anxiety. Would she be up to the task? Would she be able to handle the kids? She talked about walking into the classroom that morning and suddenly she remembered she used to begin the day by simply putting her books down on her desk and saying, “Good morning, class.” That would kind of quiet the class down. Then they would say, “Good morning, Mrs. Jones” and she should get on with teaching. So she put her books down on her desk, feeling a little bit more confident, and she said, “Good morning, class.” Some kid in the front row shouted back, “Shut up, bitch!” and everybody in the classroom laughed. This teacher asked the question in the LA Times, “What happened in America between ‘Good morning, Mrs. Jones,’ and ‘Shut up, bitch!” And who is going to do something about it? We are at war. Our task as an enclave of resistance is to subvert the calloused, materialistic, secular, godless culture of which we are a part – to subvert that culture at its root
4) The Church should be an enclave of resistance. The Church should be an enclave of resistance. Last year in Brooklyn, or Queens, New York, there was a terrible accident. A seventh-grade student died on a Friday afternoon in a pool accident. The following Monday when the class came back to school, as you can imagine, they were emotionally distraught. Some of the kids were crying. One of the children asked their teacher, Mrs. Rezario, “Do you think Johnny is in Heaven?” And Mrs. Rezario said, “Of course he is. God loves every one of you. Look, I am going over to the corner here and if anyone wants to come over with me I will say a little prayer for Johnny. And those of you who don’t want to do that, go on and turn your computers on and we’ll be with you in a moment.” Mrs. Rezario was fired the next day. No appeals. No second chances. There is a woman in the New York City school system, a counselor, who a couple of years ago took a fifteen-year-old girl to an abortion clinic without telling her parents, and the girl bled to death. She is still a counselor in the New York public schools. But Mrs. Rezario – she committed the unpardonable sin. She told her children God loved them, and prayed with them. We would point to other places in our culture to verify that the war is on and the culture seems to be winning. Doesn’t the image demand our attention? The Church should be an enclave of resistance.
5) Poverty for us is a freedom: Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) thought so. There was a beautiful article about her in Time magazine. She was asked about the materialism of the West. She said, “The more you have, the more you are occupied, but the less you have the more free you are. Poverty for us is a freedom. It is a joyful freedom. There is no television here, no this, no that. This is the only fan in the whole house…and it is for the guests. But we are happy. “I find the rich poorer,” she continued. “Sometimes they are more lonely inside…The hunger for love is much more difficult to fill than the hunger for bread…The real poor know what is joy.” When asked about her plans for the future, she replied, “I just take one day. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not come. We have only today to love Jesus.” Is there anyone in this room as rich as Mother Teresa?
6) Passing the buck: One of our favorite national pastimes is “passing the buck”. We have all played this game of letting someone else do what we should be doing, of handing on a job, a responsibility, or an assignment. We particularly like to pass the buck when it comes to listening to sermons. We think that some of the best homilies, retreats, conferences and lectures we hear are “meant for someone else.” We listen and say: “That’s good advice for my kids,” “My neighbors should have heard this homily,” or “That’s aimed at my office staff,” and so on. And that is precisely what Jesus’ hometown people did. They did not acknowledge that they were poor, blind or prisoners who needed a savior and liberator. Hence, they not only rejected Jesus and His “liberation theology,” but also tried to eliminate him from the world as their ancestors had killed the prophets sent to them by God.
7) “You are either with me or against me:” I remember the scene on Calvary as depicted by a Hungarian artist, Monsky. On the one side of the cross are Christ’s frightened, dedicated followers, a little knot of them. On the other side of the cross are his sneering, vicious, passionate enemies. These are they who, at least, made a choice. But on the hill in the background is a host of unidentifiable faces. They show neither hatred nor mercy, neither cruelty nor compassion. They are the spectators. They are the neutrals. And they are the most guilty of all! Their passionate commitment could have swung the whole thing either way. But they chose to do nothing! They just weren’t interested! Pythagoras, the Greek philosopher, was once asked why he attended the Olympic Games. He replied, “Some come to compete for prizes, some to sell merchandise, some to enjoy meeting their friends. But I just come to stand on the sidelines and look on.” Bacon, who was writing about the incident later on, said, “But men must know that in the theater of God’s world, only God and the angels are allowed to be spectators.” But, you see, Bacon was wrong also, because as Jesus said: “My Father never stops working, and I work.” “Life is a daring adventure or it is nothing.” Helen Keller said that, a lady robbed of her sight, hearing, and ability to speak.
8) Did you see the movie Amistad? It is a must. It’s based on real events of 1839. A group of Africans – men, women and children – had been kidnapped by slave traders. They staged an insurrection aboard their prison ship. When they gained control of the vessel, they thought they were headed home from Cuba, but instead they sailed to the east coast of the United States, ending up in jail in New England, on trial for their lives. During the time they were incarcerated, a small but persistent group of Christians kept a vigil of prayer for the prisoners. We see these Christians kneeling outside the jail. We see them in the courtroom. We see them on the streets, walking alongside the shackled Africans. We see them dressed in rather severe clothes with somber countenances, so much so that at first the prisoners think they’re sick. Then it seems to the inmates that their advocates are upset about something. They are upset about something. They’re upset that these men, women, and children, who are thought to be slaves, are being held in custody. The Christian group is upset that anyone could be made a slave of another. Some of these Christian abolitionists carry Bibles, some carry small crosses. In one brief scene, the camera zooms in on a cross on a chain, held by one of the women. It hit me hard. That ancient symbol has been in so many places, in so many hands, clutched to so many hearts, bringing out in so many a courage they didn’t know they had for causes they didn’t know they cared that much about. It has always been the sign of something radically different from the prevailing ways of culture and human systems. It’s the Church’s most definitive mark – the cross. For the world – foolishness. But for those who believe, the power of God unto salvation. It labels who we are as the Church – an enclave of resistance. (MaxieDunnam.com)
9) Rejection hurts: The book Crossing Over is the story of the rejection one woman faced when she fell in love with a person outside the Amish Community and ran away to marry him. Ruth Garrett had always been a little rebellious, but not even she could imagine the pain she was about to experience from being shunned by her family and community. Arnold Palmer played his last Master’s Tournament in 2002. Palmer, who won the Master’s in 1958, 1960, 1962, and 1964, had seen his game slip away with age and his stardom fade with the rise of Tiger Woods and Phil Nicholson. A reporter asked Palmer, “Why did you do it? Why did you quit?” To which Palmer replied, “I didn’t want to get the letter that former champions Ford, Brewer, and Casper have already received asking them to step down.” Whether it’s that girl in elementary school who looked at you in disdain when you offered her a Valentine card, or the boss that suggests you are not included in the company’s new plans, rejection hurts. It causes pain. Today’s Gospel teaches how Jesus faces rejection from his hometown with prophetic courage of his convictions.
10) Preaching liberation with courage: When Bishop Desmond Tutu was visiting the United States and lecturing in those days just before the fall of Apartheid, he said, “God is at work in this world, breaking down the barriers that separate people from one another.” Then, interpreting Scripture, he said, “God was not only freeing the slaves in Moses’ time, but Moses’ story is there to reveal to us that God is always freeing slaves, always freeing those who are in bondage.” So, he said, again in Scripture, in the words of Deuteronomy, “Choose ye this day whom you will serve.” Choose on whose side you are going to stand. “Today this Scripture is being fulfilled in your hearing.”
11) Evolution of the Church from liberating fellowship to enterprise: Some years ago, Richard Halverson, then Chaplain of the United States Senate, in an address to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, described the evolution of the Church: “In the beginning,” he said, “the Church was a fellowship of men and women who centered their lives in the living Christ. They had a personal and vital relationship with the Lord and it transformed their lives and the world around them. But then the Church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. And then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. And then it moved to Europe, where it became a culture. And now it has moved to America, where it has become an enterprise.” What an indictment – the Church as a philosophy, as an institution, as a culture, as an enterprise! Any of these violates God’s intention for the Church. The Church is to be that fellowship of people who have a vital and personal relationship with the Lord, which transforms their lives. As result of that transformation, the Church becomes an enclave of resistance, transforming the world that surrounds it.
12) Jesus the prophet: In one of his books, David Buttrick tells about a cartoon in a magazine. The cartoon showed three men sitting in a row behind a long table. A microphone has been placed in front of each of them. One man was pictured in long flowing hair and a draped white robe. Another was battered, a wreath of jagged thorns on his head. The third was swarthy, with dark curly hair and a pointed nose. The caption said, “Will the real Jesus Christ please stand?”
Everybody sees Jesus from a different angle, including the writers of the New Testament. For Matthew, Jesus is the Teacher of Righteousness. For Mark, Jesus is an exorcist, constantly battling the powers of evil. Even after Evil nails him to a cross, Jesus emerges from the tomb to continue his saving work. But for Luke, the word that best summarizes the person and work of Jesus is “prophet.” In the story we heard today, Jesus is a different kind of prophet. The prophet Jesus says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” When the prophet Jesus said, “Today the Scripture is fulfilled,” he turned memory into a mission statement. He transformed hope into an assignment. He claimed the beautiful poetry of Isaiah as his job description.
13) Liberate dungeon lovers: Kazimerz Symanski of Poland was a prisoner of war during World War II. There is no record of what happened to Symanski in the prison camp, but his experiences there obviously changed him. In his later years, Symanski seemed bent on reliving his prison experience. He even turned his small apartment into a prison cell. He put bars over the windows and constructed a small cage in which he slept. He refused to allow electricity or running water in his apartment. He seemed determined to live in the most primitive and confining conditions. Symanski died in 1993 from the effects of his living conditions. [The Comedian Who Choked to Death on a Pie . . . And the Man Who Quit Smoking at 116, compiled by the editors of Fortean Times (New York: Cader Books, 1996), pp. 48-49.] Some of us, too, have been living for years in prison cells of our own making. We are bound by addictions, anxiety, low self-esteem, anger, fear, guilt, misconceptions about God. We get this blank expression when the preacher talks about joy, or stepping out in Faith, or living the abundant life. We’re just lucky to make it through the day without collapsing from the weight of our chains. But we weren’t made to live that way.
14) Truth Shall Prevail: Brinsley McNamara wrote a classic story called The Valley of the Squinting Windows. He came from a very rural area of Ireland and was well known, because his father was a teacher in the local school. His story was such that everybody in the village recognized themselves among the characters of the story. This led to public outrage in his hometown, while the rest of the country was avidly reading the book! The book was burned in public, his family had to leave town, and, to this day, his name still evokes strong reactions among many of the people of that town. What he wrote was too close to the bone. If he had written a book about the people of some other town, he probably would have been hailed as the local literary hero. To this day none of his descendants would dare return to their roots in that town. They did, in a symbolic way, take him outside the town, and threw him over a cliff. (Jack McArdle in And That’s the Gospel Truth; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
15) Rejection because of helping a man in need: Long ago, there lived an English priest named George Herbert, who was also a poet and amateur musician On his way to a music session with some friends, he once came across a man whose horse had collapsed under the weight of its load. Both horse and owner were in great distress. Without a moments’ hesitation, he stopped and emerged from his vehicle, took off his clerical robes and rolled up his sleeves. First he helped the owner unload the horse, getting it standing on its feet and then reload the animal systematically so that the weight would be evenly and reliably stacked. Then, to the owner’s delighted surprise, he gave him some money to refresh himself and his horse. Finally, the priest got back into his vehicle and drove on to meet his friends. Of course, when he arrived late for the music session, his hair was disheveled, his face grimy, his clothes soiled and his hands dirty. This astounded the other musicians, who had known George to be prim, proper and punctual. And when he told them the reason for his unkempt appearance and late arrival, the others frowned upon him for getting involved in such a mess with an ordinary stranger. Unabashed and unapologetic, George Herbert answered: “The thought of what I have done will be like music to me at midnight. The omission of it would have caused discord in my conscience. For if I am bound to pray for all who are in distress, I am sure that I am bound, so far as it is in my power, to practice what I pray for. So now let’s tune our instruments.” (James Valladares in Your Words O Lord, Are Spirit and They Are Life; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
16) Facing Rejection, Diogenes style: The Greek philosopher Diogenes was regarded by many who knew him as a somewhat eccentric teacher, not least for his belief that virtue consisted in the avoidance of all physical pleasures and that pain and inconvenience were conducive to goodness. When Alexander the Great visited Diogenes in Corinth, the philosopher was living in a large earthenware tub in one of the city suburbs. Few people could accept either his teaching or his way of life. Diogenes was once noticed begging from a statue. When someone asked him the reason for this pointless conduct, he replied: “I am exercising the art of being rejected.” Diogenes experienced plentiful rejection in his time; whether he ever became accustomed to being rebuffed remains an open question. In today’s Gospel we see how Jesus, after preaching in the synagogue in Nazareth, is rejected by his own townspeople. (Fr. Botelho).
17) Unpopular Prophets of our time: The movie Black Like Me is based on a book by the same title written by John Howard Griffin. It documents his experiences when he had his skin darkened to pose as a Negro and travelled for a month through the Deep South in the late 1950’s. John Howard Griffin was born in Dallas of a mother who was a concert pianist. As a youth he studied psychiatry in France. During World War II he was wounded while serving in the army and went blind as a result. In 1947 Griffin returned to Texas to study Braille and become a novelist. After ten years of blindness, he recovered his eyesight in a dramatic way and was able to see his wife and two children for the first time. Griffin then got a job with a Negro magazine. It was during this time that he undertook his Black Like Me adventure. Griffin went on to become a leader in the Civil Rights Movement, thus incurring a backlash of hatred from white racists, ranging from threatening mail and phone calls to being hung in effigy by his own townspeople. Griffin died in 1980. The opposition John Howard Griffin encountered in his prophetic work for civil rights finds a parallel in today’s readings. (Jack McArdle in And That’s the Gospel Truth; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
18) A Prophet living for ever: In one of its issues, Newsweek addressed in depth the Women’s Liberation Movement. It observed that once the revolution was declared, the nation was flooded with books on the subject. Some books, like those written by Nancy Woloch and Phyllis Schlafly, were serious studies of the significance of the movement. Other books, like those authored by Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, were more strident and dogmatic. The latter illustrate what often happens in a movement – self-styled prophets emerge who presume to speak with full authority. And so we have had such figures as Hugh Hefner as the spokesman for the Playboy Philosophy, guru Timothy Leary for the LSD cult and the militant Malcolm X for the Black Power movement. History shows that many of these movements die out and that their prophets fade away. But there is one movement that endures, one prophet who lives forever. The movement is Christianity, and the prophet is Jesus Christ. (Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
19) “Stirring-the-oatmeal.” Therapist and author Robert A. Johnson (We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love, Harper Collins Pub. Inc., New York: 1983) once described the ineffable experience of love as “stirring-the-oatmeal.” “Stirring-the-oatmeal” is authentic love in that it is a humble act, not exciting or thrilling. It represents a down-to-earth willingness to share the ordinary things, to find meaning in simple tasks like earning a living, living within a budget, putting out the garbage, feeding the baby in the middle of the night. To “stir the oatmeal” means to find relatedness, value and beauty in the routine expressions of loving and giving. Stirring-the-oatmeal avoids the dramatic and the ostentatious in favor of the ordinary and even the banal. Like the rice hulling of the Zen monks, the spinning wheel of Gandhi and the tent making of Paul, stirring-the-oatmeal means giving love practical expression by affording those we love a tangible experience of our sincerity. Although Paul’s portrait of love, as enunciated in today’s second reading, is so beautifully poetic as to cause our thoughts to soar high with idealism, his challenge is nonetheless as real and palpable as the oatmeal on the stove. (Sanchez Files). L/19
Prepared by: Fr. Anthony Kadavil, Chaplain, Sacred Heart Residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor, 1655 McGill Ave, Mobile, AL 36604.