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Fourth Sunday In Ordinary Time, Year C

By Father Donald Dilger
Father Donald Dilger

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19; Psalm 71:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 17, 19; 1 Cor12:31-13:13; Luke 4:21-30 

The first reading is taken from the book of the history, mission, and oracles of the prophet Jeremiah. His ministry in and around Jerusalem was long and difficult. The approximate dates: 626-586 B.C. The content of this reading is the call of Jeremiah to be God’s spokesperson to the Chosen People. Jeremiah reports his call: “The Lord came to me saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born I dedicated you. I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’” Though the words differ somewhat, the thoughts originate in Psalm 139:15-16. The same thoughts will be used of a prophet called Second Isaiah. See Isaiah 49:1, 5. They are also foundational to Luke’s story of the conception and birth of John the Baptizer. Their final use in the New Testament, Galatians 1:15, where Paul applies them to himself and his mission. This repeated use of a psalm verse or oracle of a prophet is called a trajectory, as a missile is propelled from its source and lands at its goal. A better comparison is that of skipping a stone across a body of water as it touches the water again and again until it lands on the other side.

In the second part of this first reading, God gives Jeremiah his mission instructions. He will speak for God, “Tell them all that I command you.” God foresees Jeremiah’s depression and his attempts to escape his mission, “Do not be crushed because of them. I will not let it happen.” His strength as God’s spokesperson originates in God himself. “I will make you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass.” He will not spare from reprimand even the highest authority, “kings, princes, priests, and people.” They will not take it lying down, “They will fight against you but not prevail, for I am with you to deliver you.” A reading of the Book of Jeremiah demonstrates that the prophet’s mission instruction accurately describe his activity and suffering. How does this reading correspond to this Sunday’s gospel? Part of Jeremiah’s suffering will be threats of assassination by the citizens of his hometown, just as Jesus is threatened with violence by his fellow-citizens of Nazareth.

The Responsorial Psalm, 71, continues the theme of persecution spoken by an old man at prayer. He begs the Lord to not let him be put to shame, to listen to his prayer, to be his refuge, to deliver him, to be his stronghold, his rock, his fortress. Again we hear the theme struck in Psalm 139, in Jeremiah, etc., as noted above. “On you I depend from birth, from my mother’s womb you are my strength.” That Jeremiah was barely in his teens when God called him is another theme of this Psalm, “O God, you have taught me from my youth until the present . . . .” The people respond with the assurance of God’s protection, “I will sing of your salvation.”

The second reading is Paul’s tribute to love, well known through its frequent use as a reading during wedding Masses. Throughout chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians Paul was discussing charisms (spiritual gifts), their variety and their unity. It was his attempt to bring unity into the Church at Corinth. He compares the various charisms to parts of the human body. Each part of the body, each spiritual gift, has its own peculiar function. Those who have a particular gift should function in that gift, and not in someone else’s gift. He notes that there are higher gifts than the many charisms he listed. He writes, “I am going to show you a better way.” That better way, the way that governs all the others, is love (agape). The hymn to love follows. Paul closes the hymn with these well-known words, “So faith, hope, and love remain, these three, but the greatest of these is love.”

The gospel reading continues from last week the episode of Jesus’ visit to his hometown, Nazareth. He is in the local synagogue. After reading a passage from Isaiah 61:1-2, he begins his interpretation of the passage with an astounding statement, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The people were amazed. “All spoke highly of his gracious words,” and they asked, “Is this not the son of Joseph?” Everyone knew Jesus as their former carpenter who followed the trade of his “father” Joseph. So far all seemed o.k. This village carpenter already had a reputation for curing diseases. So they say, “Why don’t you do here at Nazareth what you have done elsewhere?” They want proof of what was rumored about him. Jesus knew their doubts, or sarcasm. His response did not win any friends. He replies, “No prophet is accepted in his own native place.” He gives two examples of prophets who did their miracles outside the Holy Land and for the benefit, not of Jews, but of heathens, Gentiles.

During a long drought in Israel, despite all the widows in Israel who would have needed help, God sent the prophet Elijah to a heathen widow in Sidon, not part of the Holy Land. The prophet Elisha cured the leprosy of Naaman, a Syrian general, even though there were many lepers in Israel. The people in the synagogue became furious at the thought that God sent his prophets to benefit Gentiles. The furious Nazarenes attempted to kill Jesus. If this attempted assassination is historical, why don’t Mark and Matthew have the same outcome of Jesus’ visit to Nazareth? Luke is not writing history. He composes a catechetical lesson in which he is about to share a divine revelation. He got the idea of a hometown crowd killing a prophet from the story of Jeremiah’s visit to his hometown Anathoth. The men of the town warned Jeremiah that they would kill him if he spoke the word of the Lord to them. Jeremiah responded with curses. Jesus responds by walking away. But what exactly is Luke revealing? That the mission of Jesus and Christianity is no longer directed only to Jews, but to all nations. In other words, God loves all people. It is the same lesson taught in the Old Testament by the Books of Ruth and Jonah. It is the same lesson taught by Matthew in his story of the Magi — universal salvation.