Sunday Sermon for January 30, 2022, the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Readings: Jer 1: 4-5, 17-19; 1 Cor 12:31-13:13; Lk 4:21-30
In the first reading, God tells the Prophet Jeremiah that he is to tell the people everything God commands him to say. The Lord follows this up by telling Jeremiah not to be crushed on account of the people. He is to preach to kings, princes, priests, and people. God tells Jeremiah they would all fight against him, but they would not prevail.
In the Gospel, we hear about Jesus going to Nazareth, his hometown. The people liked the beauty of His words, but they did not want to believe in those words. Jesus told them no prophet is accepted in his own native place. The people wanted to see some miracles, but when Jesus told them there were no miracles because they were like the Israelites at the time of Elijah or Elisha, they were filled with fury and wanted to throw Him over the cliff.
Human nature has not changed. People still do not want to change their lives in accordance with the Word of God. The people of Jeremiah’s time would have rejoiced if Jeremiah was preaching against those who were persecuting the Jews. But when Jeremiah told them why they were being persecuted, that is, due to their own infidelity to God, they did not want to hear it.
The people in Nazareth were happy to hear Jesus speaking about things that did not directly affect them, but when our Lord pointed out their own lack of faith in Him, they wanted to kill Him. We would like to say that things have changed or suggest that we would react differently if our Lord or one of His prophets would speak today, but I would beg to differ. There are always some who want to hear the truth, but very few are willing to conform themselves to the truth. Most people do not want to change anything in their lives; rather, they think everyone else needs to change.
One could certainly understand why people would react negatively if the message being preached was nasty, angry, or uncharitable. We recall that Jeremiah was not allowed to speak for a time because his anger was in the way. Of course, if one is challenged, it is not unusual that the message would be interpreted as being harsh or uncharitable.
However, we are talking about the Word of God. In the second reading St. Paul speaks about the various spiritual gifts people can have, but tells us that the greatest gift is charity. We sometimes marvel at people who can speak in tongues, work miracles, heal people, or the like. St. Paul even speaks of faith that can move mountains, but I can’t say I have seen or heard of that happening in a literal sense, so we cannot marvel at anyone for doing such a thing. But, as amazing as some of these things are, St. Paul is clear that they are nothing if the person does not have love.
This point is very important for us to understand, because God is love. Therefore, it is impossible for Him to speak or act in a way that lacks charity, even in the slightest degree. This means that the words Jeremiah was commanded to speak were words of pure love. Perhaps Jeremiah’s own disposition caused the words to come out in a way that did not sound very loving, but the words themselves could only be love. God wants only the best for His people, so everything He says and does is true and charitable.
Unlike what might be said about Jeremiah, or any other person who speaks the Word of God, we cannot say the disposition of Jesus might have been lacking in charity. Jesus is God and God is love, therefore, Jesus is Love. What He said and how He said it is all done in pure charity for the people. It might be possible to justify people rejecting the message of a prophet because the messenger failed to present the message in the best way. But when the people wanted to throw Jesus off the cliff even when we know with certainty that His message and the way He presented His message was only love, one has to wonder what the reaction in Nazareth would have been if the message was not preached in love!
This is why we need to consider our own disposition to God’s Word. God’s Word is always love, but it is also always truth. Do we want the truth? Are our hearts open to receive His love? If we are hearing His Word from another human person, we may need to look beyond the weaknesses of the messenger. The key is to open our minds and hearts to receive the truth and love of Jesus that will set us free.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.