On this Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time we are invited to reflect on the courage of Jesus in the fulfillment of His Apostolic Ministry, as He faces an audience turned unfriendly in His native town of Nazareth.
Faithfulness to His mission, rather than quest for popularity and praises, is what characterized His stance not only in today’s episode but throughout His life. This should also be our fundamental choice as we are constantly challenged by an environment and a culture that seeks the spectacular and exalts pleasure in all its forms.
This last Sunday of January is also National Bible Sunday. This celebration reminds us of the importance of God’s written Word not only in the life of the Church, but also of society and of every believer.
The Scriptures are our “Book of Life.” It is our duty to know them well, to put their message into practice, and to share the riches of their content with all. Let this be our commitment today and one of the main intentions for which we are offering this Eucharist.
Jesus began speaking in the synagogue, saying: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” 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?” 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.’ ” And he said, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place.
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. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. 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.”
When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. 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.
But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.
Prophets are a strange breed of people. Often a torment to themselves and others, they are the critical conscience of God’s people and of all mankind. They view people, behaviors and events the way God does, which is often different from the way people do.
Their perception is a “faith-view.” Endowed with a unique knowledge of God’s will and plan, they evaluate events and actions against the background of such knowledge, and then speak out. They shout even when others prefer to keep silent. True prophets are not after popularity, but after faithfulness to God’s service. Thus they show that they are people of faith.
Prophets are also people of hope. Even when the situations and behavior they denounce appear to be humanly “hopeless,” genuine prophets are always able to see beyond the present crisis. They perceive and outline the possibility of better days, if only the evildoers repent and return to the Lord. The hope that pervades them and which they inject in others is deeply rooted not in man’s merits but in God’s mercy and faithfulness to His promises.
Prophets are, most of all, people of love – a strong and faithful love for God and for all men. It is out of love for God and neighbor that they prophesy. Zeal for the glory of the Lord devours them. Zeal for the real good of their people impels them to denounce evils, to become the protectors of the oppressed, the voice of the voiceless, even at the cost of their tranquility. Sometimes, at the cost of their lives. Indeed, the life of a prophet is a “dangerous life.”
People often misunderstand the message of the prophets. They reject their call to conversion. Sometimes, they may reject the prophets themselves and even try to silence them through violent means. Jeremiah knew this from the day of his call. (See the First Reading.)
Jesus, the greatest and most faithful of all prophets, knew it even before his birth. On several occasions he experienced the bitter truth of the saying “no prophet gains acceptance in his native place.” Yet He did not back off. And for one reason only: His immense love for the Father and for all men. The Crucifix is the most eloquent sign of Christ’s rejection by the very people whose hopes he had come to fulfill, but it is also the greatest sign of his brave and generous love for all.
We Christians share in the prophetic ministry of our Leader. We should feel grateful for such a privilege, and live it out with courage, refusing to be intimidated by ingratitude, misinterpretations, bad example, and oppositions. When these things happen, we should remember His words: “Blessed are you when they insult and persecute you . . . because of me. Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is great in heaven” (Mt 5:11-12).