January 29, 2016

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Jeremiah provides the first reading for this weekend. This book is regarded as one of the major Hebrew prophetic works because of its extent and the brilliance of its language. Jeremiah descended from priests. He was from a small village, Anathoth, only a few miles away from Jerusalem.

As occurred with many, indeed even most of the prophets, his prophecies drew sharp rebukes. He even was accused of blasphemy, a crime that had death as its punishment in the Hebrew code of law. (It was this statute that centuries later led to some of the demands for the crucifixion of Jesus.)

Despite the ordeals created by these rebukes and accusations, Jeremiah never relented in proclaiming fidelity to God as a personal and national imperative. He never doubted that his mission was from God.

In this weekend’s reading, Jeremiah recalls the day when God called him to the mission of prophesy. It was during the reign of King Josiah, who ruled the Kingdom of Judah from 640 to 609 BC. God told Jeremiah to be bold. God predicted the controversial response to Jeremiah’s prophesying, urging the prophet not to be daunted by unfriendly or angry reactions.

As its second reading for this weekend, the Church offers a passage from St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. It is one of the most compelling and best known sections of the entire corpus of Pauline literature.

Clear and straightforward, it is the beautiful explanation of love. Few better definitions of love—this ability unique to humans in nature—exist.

Paul then reveals what happens when a person embraces the Gospel. Imperfections fade away. Knowledge increases. Maturity is reached. The insecurities, smallness and shortsightedness of youth pass.

St. Luke’s Gospel is the source of the last reading. Jesus, as the passage clearly states, appears in the synagogue in Nazareth. In earlier verses, not part of this weekend’s reading, Jesus stands to read a section of the Book of Isaiah. In this section, Isaiah recalled his own calling to be a prophet. Isaiah gave details as to what this calling meant. He was God’s spokesman, sent by God to bring liberty to the oppressed, hope to the poor and sight to the blind.

Then, in the passage proclaimed this weekend, Jesus declares that this prophecy has now been fulfilled in him. He is the long awaited spokesman of God.

At first, the audience is impressed. But then Jesus recalled an incident, mentioned in the Old Testament, in which God showed mercy upon gentiles.

This mention of divine favor for anyone outside the Chosen People infuriated the audience in the synagogue so much that they tried to murder Jesus. He, of course, escaped.

Reflection

The Church remembers the great feasts of Christmas, the Epiphany, and the Baptism of the Lord in January. In these feasts, it celebrated the mercy of God that came to us through and in the Lord Jesus.

Now, building upon this idea of God’s gift of mercy and consequent eternal life, the Church this weekend presents these readings.

As the Gospel made clear, God’s mercy excludes no one. He offers it in love to all humanity. We ourselves must love others with love as pure and unselfish as that described by St. Paul.

Granted, it is more easily said than done. Reactions to Jeremiah and to Jesus remind us that human insights are limited and self-centered.

God supplies us with what we cannot find or create on our own—eternal life, but also genuine wisdom and courage. Thus God sent Jeremiah to prophesy. Thus God sent Jesus, the source of the strength to believe and to love. †

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