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4th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle C)

Readings:
Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19
Psalm 71:1-6, 15, 17
1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13
Luke 4:21-30

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of the Readings: God's Prophet to the Nations
In the First Reading God tells the prophet Jeremiah that he was chosen for his prophetic mission as a "prophet to the nations" before he was born (Jer 1:1).  He is also warned that he will face opposition from his own people, but God assures him that He will protect him.  The first Reading is a prelude to our Gospel Reading in which Jesus, like Jeremiah, was consecrated in the womb of the Virgin Mary and sent as a "prophet to the nations" (see Lk 1:31-33; 2:30-32).  Like Jeremiah, Jesus also faced opposition to His message from His own people, but also like Jeremiah He was protected by God the Father who had ordained His divine mission and declared His pleasure in God the Son (Mk 1:11).

However unlike Jeremiah, Jesus was more than a prophet in the tradition of Jeremiah or Elijah and Elisha who preceded Jeremiah.  Jesus is God's promised supreme prophet (Dt 18:18-19) who fulfills the promises of all the prophets who came before Him, and who also prefigures the prophetic ministry of His Church.  In the Second Reading we are reminded that the Church must fulfill her role as Christ's prophet to every succeeding generation, and those of us who make up the Body of Christ that is the Church must be willing to experience the negative reactions of contemporary society in fulfilling that mission.  As many different parts of the Body of Christ, St. Paul tells us we must be inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit in genuine love as we continue to bear witness to Christ in words and deeds.  We must continually pray that God will open the hearts and minds of those who resist opening themselves to the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and we must pray that the words we sing in today's Psalm will be ours as the Church continues to fulfill her role as God's prophet to every generation: "My mouth shall declare your justice, day by day your salvation."

The First Reading Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19 (NJB) ~ The Call of the Prophet Jeremiah
4 The word of Yahweh came to me, saying: 5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you; I appointed you as prophet to the nations." [...] 17 "As for you, prepare yourself for action.  Stand up and tell them all I command you.  Have no fear of them and in their presence I will make you fearless.  18 For look, today I have made you into a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of bronze to stand against the whole country: the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests and the people of the country.  19 They will fight against you but will not overcome you, Yahweh declares, to rescue you."

Jeremiah's ministry covered a period of about forty years from c. 627 BC to 587/6 BC.  In today's passage Jeremiah writes about his prophetic call.   It is interesting that his call was not limited to his own people in the Southern Kingdom of Judah, which was at that time the remaining remnant of the Kingdom of Israel.  The last of the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel had been taken captive and exiled into Assyrian lands a century earlier in 722 BC, and the two tribes the Southern Kingdom of Judah and Benjamin was all that remained.  Word of Jeremiah's prophetic ministry was also intended to reach the Gentile nations.

In verses 17-19 God warned his prophet that he would face opposition, but God promised to protect him from his enemies.  Jeremiah's mission was to condemn an unfaithful covenant people.  His prophecies of God's judgment on an apostate people who failed to give Yahweh genuine worship and failed in their faithfulness to His covenant would be witnessed by the Gentile nations that were the neighbors of the Kingdom of Judah.  But those Gentile nations would also witness the miraculous fulfillment of Jeremiah's promise that God would return His people to their homeland in an exodus out of Babylon after seventy years of atonement for their sins.

Jeremiah's mission as "prophet to the nations" prefigures Jesus' prophetic ministry.  Like Jeremiah Jesus will be sent to His own people, and like Jeremiah Jesus will face opposition to His ministry from the civil rulers, the religious leaders, and many of His own countrymen.  Jesus will come to gather in the "lost sheep" of the House of Israel (Mt 10:6; 15:24; 18:11; Lk 15:6)—to redeem the "faithful remnant of Israel", and to transform them into the new Israel of the universal Church that will carry His Gospel message of salvation to all nations—to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8; CCC 877)

Responsorial Psalm 71:1-6, 15, 17 ~ Proclaiming the Lord's Salvation
The response is: "I will sing of your salvation."
 
1 In you, O LORD, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.  2 In your justice rescue me, and deliver me; incline your ear to me, and save me.
Response:
3 Be my rock of refuge, a stronghold to give me safety, for you are my rock and my fortress.  4 O my God, rescue me from the hand of the wicked.
Response:
5 For you are my hope, O Lord; my trust, O God, from my youth.  6 On you I depend from birth; from my mother's womb you are my strength.
Response:
15 My mouth shall declare your justice, day by day your salvation.  [...] 17 O God, you have taught me from my youth, and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deeds.
Response:

This psalm contains the kind of petition the prophet Jeremiah might have made during the suffering he endured at the hands of those who opposed his prophetic message.  The psalm begins with the psalmist's petition for God to hear his prayer and to rescue him.  He professes that God has been his protector since he was a child and he declares that he relies on the strength of God who is his rock and his safe stronghold (verses 1-3).  He needs God's protection from the bad intentions of evil men (verse 4).  Again in verse 5 the psalmist speaks of the hope he has in God's willingness to protect him and of his intimate relationship with God since his childhood and youth.

Then in verses 15 and 17, the psalmist's confidence in the Lord to hear his prayer and grant his petition leads him to praise God for His divine teaching, for His justice and His salvation.  In verse 17 the psalmist demonstrates his confidence in God by declaring that he will continue to proclaim the "wondrous deeds" of the Lord.

The Second Reading 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13 ~ The Greatest of These is Love
12:31 Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts.  But I shall show you a still more excellent way.  13:1 If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.  2 And if I have the gift of prophecy, and comprehend all the mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  3 If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.  4 Love is patient, love is kind.  5 It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, 6 it does not rejoice over wrong-doing but rejoices with the truth.  7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  8 Love never fails.  If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.  9 For we know partially and we prophesy partially, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.  11 When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.  12 At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face.  At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.  13 So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

In 1 Corinthians chapter 12, some Christians in the church at Corinth seem to have given certain spiritual gifts and those who possessed those gifts undue importance, which was causing some tensions in the community.  St. Paul did not approve because such an attitude did not contribute to the building up of the Body of Christ that is the Church.  Instead, St. Paul urged the Christian community at Corinth to put a greater value on the spiritual gifts that contribute to the growth and mission of the Church.  Then in verse 31b, he told them that he will give them more direction concerning works of charity—love in action—that is the greater gift for building up the Body of Christ.

In the next passage (13:1-13), St. Paul preaches a wonderful hymn to charity/love that is one of the most beautiful passages in St. Paul's epistles.  He begins by singing the praises of love as seen from three points of view:

  1. The superiority of the gift of love and its absolute necessity (verses 1-3).
  2. The features of the gift of love in action in its practical application (verses 4-7).
  3. The promise that love endures forever (verses 8-13).

Paul teaches that charity that is the application of love in deeds of kindness to others is such an excellent gift that without it all the other spiritual gifts are empty of meaning (see verses 1-3).  He mentions that those other gifts will appear to be the most exceptional—like the gift of speaking in a heavenly or prophetic language (speaking in "tongues"), the gift of knowledge in interpreting such utterances, the gift of prophecy, and the relationship of these various gifts to each other.  However, he says that all these seemingly marvelous works mean nothing if not founded in love.  Without love the gift of tongues is only so much noise.  Love has to be the motivation for both words and deeds. 

Next, he speaks of the need for Christian maturity in the Christian's growth from a little child in Christ with only a little understanding to a mature servant of the Lord, and yet in this earthly reality the Christian only has a partial vision of what is to come.  He says that knowledge that leads to maturity cannot be separated from faith and acquires its full meaning in the Christian who lives by the virtues of faith, hope and love.  But, Paul says, the greatest of these virtues is love because it has the supreme role in Christian life.  This supreme role of love comes from Jesus' command that we must love each other as He has loved us in order to abide in His love, as He told His disciples in His homily at the Last Supper in John 15:9-19.

Paul says that love is the supreme Christian virtue because it projects the love of Christ beyond this material world and into the age to come.  Love has an eternal value, and it is the reason why the Christian will "know fully" and be "fully known" by God when the Christian enters the heavenly reality.  Faith and hope will pass away and will be replaced by fulfillment when we pass from this world into the eternity of the next.  It is only eschatological love that will remain forever with us in the heavenly Kingdom.

The Gospel of Luke 4:21-30
21 Jesus began speaking to them in the Synagogue, saying: "Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing."  22 And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.  They also asked, "Isn't this the son of Joseph?"  23 He said to them, "Surely you will quote me this proverb, 'Physician, cure yourself,' and say, 'Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.'"  24 And he said, "Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place.  25 Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land.  26 It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon.  27 Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian."  28 When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury.  29 They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong.  30 But he passed through the midst of them and went away.

In Luke 4:14-30, Jesus gave His first homily in the Synagogue of His hometown of Nazareth.  In that teaching He used three Old Testament references:

  1. In Luke 4:18-19 Jesus quoted Isaiah 61:1-2.
  2. In Luke 4:25-26 He referenced the events in 1 Kings 17:9-24.
  3. In Luke 4:27 Jesus referenced the events in 2 Kings 5:1-14.

Jesus came to His hometown of Nazareth and attended the Sabbath day (Saturday) service in the local Synagogue.  It was "His custom" to keep the Sabbath command by coming to the Synagogue when He wasn't in Jerusalem to attend the Temple liturgy (see Luke 4:16).  The president of the Synagogue was authorized to ask any male of the covenant to read and expound on the Scripture to the congregation, and He asked Jesus to stand and read the Scripture for that Saturday Sabbath service.  The passage Jesus read was from the Greek Septuagint translation of the scroll of Isaiah 61:1-2, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings [good news = gospel] to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord" (Lk 4:18-19; see last week's Sunday Gospel reading).  

After reading Isaiah 61:1-2 from the Septuagint translation of the scroll of the 8th century BC prophet Isaiah, Jesus made a startling announcement.  Jesus told congregation that the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled in Him.  He was revealing to His neighbors that He was the promised "Anointed One," that Isaiah wrote about in this passage, and therefore He had the authority to proclaim an extraordinary divine Jubilee liberation for the people of God as described in the prophecy. "Anointed One" is the meaning of the word "Messiah" and refers to one who is anointed with God's Spirit, just as God's prophets, priests and kings, like King David, were "the anointed of God."  Jesus then declared to the people of Nazareth that He is the chosen servant of God that Isaiah wrote about who is "anointed" with the Spirit to bring justice to the earth. 

At first the people in the congregation were delighted:  And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.  They also asked, "Isn't this the son of Joseph?"  23 He said to them, "Surely you will quote me this proverb, 'Physician, cure yourself,' and say, 'Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.'"  24 And he said, "Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place.
Despite their favorable response to His announcement, Jesus knew their thoughts and their desire for some miracle as proof of His claim. 

22b They also asked, "Isn't this the son of Joseph?  Their comment should not be interpreted as a negative response to Jesus' announcement, as the little proverb Jesus quoted next proves.  Jesus quoted the first of two proverbs, saying to them "Surely you will quote me this proverb, 'Physician, cure yourself.'" He quoted them a little secular proverb that was a well-known maxim in antiquity.  The proverb was evidently employed in an argument to insist that one must not do favors for others that are refused to one's own people, or that one must not benefit another by refusing the same benefits to one's own family or community.  In other words, the people of Nazareth have heard of the miracles Jesus has worked for the people of Capernaum and are expecting the same benefit of miracles for their community, as He tells them ... and say, 'Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum'" (Lk 4:23). 

Capernaum was the hometown of Peter, Andrew, John and James Zebedee and is mentioned by Josephus as having natural springs (Jewish Wars, 3.10.8 [519].  It was one of the most important towns in the region and was a major commercial and population center on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Many fishermen, like Peter who was formerly from Bethsaida, located their fishing business there since there was a processing business for salting and shipping fish in nearby Taricheae ("preserved fish town").  The Romans made contracts with local fisherman for shipping salt preserved fish or manufactured fish sauce to parts of the Roman Empire.  Capernaum became the headquarters for Jesus' Galilean ministry.

24 And he said, "Amen [Amen, amen], I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place.   "Amen" is a Hebrew word used in a proclamation or corroborating statement in both the Old and New Testaments; it is often doubled to emphasize the statement and is the only Hebrew word found in Luke's Gospel.  This same proverb that Jesus mentioned is quoted with slight variation in all the Gospels (Mt 13:57; Mk 6:4 and Jn 4:44), as well as in secular documents like the Oxyrhyuchus Papyri and the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas.

But what did Jesus mean by quoting this maxim?  The answer is in the passages Jesus then refers to from the ministry of the prophets Elijah and Elisha in 1 Kings 17:9-24 and 2 Kings 5:1-14 when He says, "Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land.  26 It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon.  27 Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian" (Luke 4:25-27).

First, He has put Himself in the same class as Elijah and Elisha whose stories He referenced—He is a prophet.  And as a prophet He is predicting the historical precedent that all God's prophets down through salvation history have been rejected by their own people.  Jesus' point is that the people of Nazareth's previously formed perception of Him as only a member of their community that they have known since He was a child will inhibit their faith in Him as the Messiah and the vision of who He really is and what He has come to accomplish. 

Then, Jesus cites the works of two of God's prophets who were rejected by their own people.  In the days of Elijah, the people turned away from God, rejecting His prophets and giving themselves up to Baal worship (1 Kng 16:29-33).  God punished the Israelites for their sins by withholding the rains and a famine spread over the land (1 Kng 17:1).  But the prophet Elijah was not sent to help the Israelites who had rejected him.  Instead, God sent Elijah to the city of Sidon to help a Gentile widow (see 1 Kng 17:2, 9-24).  Sidon was one of the oldest Phoenician cities located on the Mediterranean coast about 20 miles north of Tyre (near modern day Beirut).

In the second example, Jesus cites the story of Elijah's successor, the prophet Elisha and his intervention in the life of the army commander of the king of Aram.  When the king of Aram sent a letter with his general requesting that an Israelite prophet he had heard about heal his general of leprosy, the king of Israel did not think to send for Elisha to heal the commander, Naaman.  However, Elisha offered to heal the man as evidence that "there is a prophet in Israel" (see 2 Kng 5:1-14).  Out of desperation and not belief, the King of Israel sent Naaman to Elisha.  When Naaman the Aramean general was healed of his leprosy, he acknowledged "there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel."

What the two stories had in common was that when the covenant people of Israel rejected God's prophets, He sent His prophets to the Gentiles who were more receptive to His gift of grace.  The angry response of Jesus' neighbors was that They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong  (Lk 6:29).

What is the significance of both these stories that Jesus cited to the Israelites of Nazareth, and what made them so angry that they wanted to kill Him?  Jesus' threat was not lost on the people of Nazareth—when the covenant people reject the works of God through His prophets, God sends His prophets to do His works among the Gentiles.  The suggestion that the Israelites' rejection of Him could also lead to the offer of God's grace to the Gentiles and this enraged the Israelites of Nazareth.  They might also have tried to kill Him because they judged Him to be a false prophet for refusing to do a miracle for them.

The "brow of the hill" mentioned in verse 29 had been problematic since no topographical feature could be found in present day Nazareth to correspond to this description.  However, recent excavations have uncovered a rock formation below the surface of modern Nazareth which had been buried by later building on the site that could fit the description of the hill in the passage (McKenzie, "Nazareth," page 608).

30 But he passed through the midst of them and went away. What happened when the townspeople attempted to kill Jesus is that He miraculously passed through the crowd and went away. What was ironic about Jesus escaping the wrath of the crowd is that they wanted Jesus to perform a miracle for them, but His disappearing from them was the only miracle they would ever witness.

The initial admiration and acceptance of Jesus and then the subsequent rejection of His message and the attempt to kill Him by the people of his own hometown is a foreshadowing of the whole future of His ministry.  At first the Jews of Judah and Israelites of the Galilee will gladly receive His healings and His teachings, but then opposition will grow until Jesus is rejected by many of His own people who will succeed in having Him put to death.  His death and resurrection will lead to the birth of the "new Israel" of His Apostles and disciples who, as His ministers of the New Covenant Church, will carry His Gospel message of salvation to the "ends of the earth" to the Gentile nations (as prophesied by St. Simeon in Lk 1:30-32 and commanded by Jesus in Mt 28:19; Lk 24:47-48 and Acts 1:8).

Catechism References:

Jeremiah 1:5 (CCC 2270)
1 Corinthians 13:1-4 (CCC 1826), 13:4-7 (CCC 1825); 13:5 (CCC 953); 13:8 (CCC 773); 13:13 (CCC 163, 164, 314, 1023, 1720, 2519); 13:13 (CCC 1813, 1826, 1841)
Luke 4:21-30 (CCC 436, 1547)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2016