4th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Lk 4:21-30) “What a Day in Nazareth!” PDF Version
Homily for the 4th Sunday of OT, Year C (2019): Lk 4:21-30
What a remarkable day Jesus spent in His hometown synagogue in Nazareth! Jesus entered the synagogue and proclaimed the Word of God with many wondering if He was the Messiah and would work miracles like He had done in neighbouring towns, and then exited the synagogue to shouts of hate and the call to have Him publicly executed!
What happened to make things begin so well and end so badly? To discover what took place on that fateful day, we must examine more closely the portions of the Old Testament that Jesus referred to in the words of Prophet Isaiah and the short teaching He offered from the lives of the Prophets Elijah and Elisha.
Last Sunday, we recalled how spell bound everyone was as Jesus announced that the prophecies of Isaiah about the coming of a year of the Lord’s Favour was to be fulfilled in their hearing. Now the people of Nazareth knew what a Year of the Lord’s Favour entailed!
This year refers to what is written at Leviticus 25 about a Jubilee Year. This year took place every 50 years and was marked by the remission of debts, the release of slaves, and the return of ancestral property to its original family owners.
Think of this year as one where your credit card debt would be wiped clean and you can appreciate how grateful the people were that a Jubilee was coming! In addition, the people understood this Jubilee year as prophesied by Isaiah to also coincide with the appearance of the Messiah, who as a great political liberator would also free the nation of Israel from foreign oppressors.
The people were excited to know this Year of the Lord’s favour was coming, though in their hardness of heart and all-too-worldly dreams of the Messiah, they did not realize Jesus was speaking of a very different Jubilee year: one where the freedom for captives would come from being set free of the idols that people had brought into their hearts and the forgiveness of the debts of sin that could only be wiped clean with the shedding of the Blood of God on the Cross.
Even though the people had their own misconceived ideas about what this Jubilee year entailed, they nonetheless wished to listen further to what Jesus had to say. But as so often happens in the Bible, doubt was also in their hearts and what better way to receive proof that Jesus was telling the truth than for Him to perform some sign or miracle to prove His word.
And thus begins the age old story of God’s people: They do not trust God and the words He speaks, so they put Him to the test, demanding a sign and only then would they believe! If He was the Messiah and would lead them to victory over Rome, then the Carpenter’s Son had to prove He had become so much more than the one they had grown up with!
And Jesus gives them the proof and sign they ask for, knowing how much they will loath and reject what He has to say! The sign that Jesus offers to ratify His credentials as the Messiah of God was to recall two stories in the lives of the prophets Elijah and Elisha.
Both men were national heroes and many believed that Elijah would return to earth, either as the Messiah himself or as one who would testify to his identity, and so the mention of these two great men would have caught the immediate attention of those in the synagogue.
But the stories that Jesus recalled where ones that cut the people to the heart. When Elijah worked a miracle for the widow of Zarephath and Elisha for Naaman the Syrian, in both instances, it was a Gentile person who was shown a miraculous favour from the God of Israel and not those from among the People of God.
Jesus was stating that the coming blessings of the Jubilee Year as brought forth by the Messiah would be shared not only with the People of Israel, but also with the much hated Gentile nations, be they the Greeks who resided in Palestine and even the Romans, the oppressors of God’s People!
Furthermore, Jesus went so far as to say that many in Nazareth would be shut out from the Jubilee year because they rejected Him, put Him to the test and remained in their hardness of heart in refusing to see the Good News that the Gentile nations were being given a chance to know salvation and became members of the People of God.
This was too much for the Nazarenes to accept, that gentiles would receive blessings and salvation before themselves and so as is often the case what better way to put any end to tough teachings you do not want to hear then to silence the messenger, who they could easily stone to death as a blasphemer and then throw Him off a climb, left unburied and accursed for having spoken the words of truth they resented to hear.
In one day, we witness what it means to have a personal and communal relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church: That you will both rejoice in what our Lord and His Church teaches us for our salvation but also be profoundly challenged by what they have to say, leading us at times to rebel and even reject the words of Truth that are shared for our salvation. And for anyone who wishes to take up their cross and follow Jesus, it should come as no surprise that we will often be treated in a similar way that Jesus experienced in Nazareth.
Consider for example how this was manifested in the life of that great saint and disciple, St. John Paul II. Many around the world, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, loved this man for the ways he worked to dismantle the Iron Curtain through non-violence, who brought religious leaders from many religions to gather and pray together for world peace, and asked in the great Jubilee year of 2000 to forgive the debts of poor nations to give them a fresh start in the third millennium. Like Jesus, St. John Paul II was loved and admired.
But we also know how much this great pope was also a subject of scorn and resentment. When he spoke out against the culture of death that pervades our world, when he taught with beauty and patience the Church’s teaching on the gift of human sexuality, teachings said to be too antiquated and irrelevant for the modern age, or when defended and reaffirmed the Church’s perennial teaching that she can only permit men to be ordained as a priests, St. John Paul II, like Jesus, was rejected and hated, even leading a somewhat famous pop star to go on a late night talk show and publically tear apart a picture of the Pope, to the horror and delight of many.
But in both praise and rejection, St. John Paul II remained faithful to Christ and lived as an authentic disciple when he felt the love of others and the hatred directed at his person. This is what made him a saint and one who lived the life of Jesus Christ with grace and mercy.
May we ask God for the patience, grace, humility and perseverance to do likewise.