Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Gospel today presents us with the rest of the story from last week’s Gospel. When we left off, Jesus had just proclaimed the reading from Isaiah describing the acts of the Messiah and then identified himself as the one who was to fulfill those words. His statement produced much amazement among those listening in the synagogue for they knew Jesus only as the son of a carpenter.
Then the next words of Jesus brought about an uproar from the people followed by threats to kill him. The Jews of Nazareth became offended because Jesus said that the Jews did not have exclusive rights to God’s love as they had long imagined. Jesus gave them examples from Scripture proving his point. Elijah cared for a widow and child by feeding them for an extended time on a little flour and oil then later restored life to her dead son. (See 1 Kings, Chapter 17) These miracles occurred during a God-induced drought because the Jews were worshiping Baal. The Gentile, Naaman, seeks out Elisha who miraculously cures him of his leprosy. (See 2 Kings, Chapter 5) These two ‘non-believers’ were under God’s watchful care even while Jewish widows starved, and their children died. Many Jewish men continued to suffer from leprosy without God’s intervention although Naaman was cured. God showered the widow and the man with his love even though they were not Jewish. When Jesus commented, that these Gentiles demonstrated more faith than the Jews of the time, the people from the synagogue were insulted by this idea.
The Jewish people did not want to hear Jesus’ words for they had grown complacent in their relationship with God. The Jews believed they had exclusive rights to God’s love and took their position for granted. Jesus challenged them to go beyond their comfort level, to acknowledge that others who were not Jews were also worthy of God’s love. He asked them to grow in their faith. However, their faith threatened, the Jews tried to kill Jesus by shoving him off a cliff. Acting out of love, instead of physically or verbally fighting back, he simply walks through the crowd and away from their evil intentions.
Disbelief is one issue God cannot correct, for he never forces us to believe. Each person must come to him freely. Often we think if only we witness a miracle by Jesus, then we would believe. Then we would know that God is real. However, in reading the Gospel stories, the witnessing a miracle did not guarantee a faith conversion. Many people observed the miracles of Jesus healing and driving out demons but still failed to come to the faith.
What is our response when we do not want to hear words that threaten our perceptions of faith? How often do we pick what we want to believe and dismiss anything that challenges us? If we allow his words to go in one ear and out the other without an effort at comprehension and reflection, we will not come to understand the Lord. His words need to stick with us. How will we understand love unless we hear his words?
We have not progressed much further than the Jews when we chose those ‘worthy’ of our love and lock doors of our heart against those deemed ‘not worthy.’ We then become distraught when Jesus does not restrict his love only to those whom we think are ‘worthy.’ Jesus’ love is universal. It is easy to say the words ‘I love you,’ but that statement must have teeth to it. Whether we want to accept it or not, we often use conditional love as a weapon in our dealings with others withholding until we get the love we desired. We cannot pick a selected few to love, and refuse even to acknowledge those who do not meet our expectations of being ‘worthy.’ Jesus reminds us that love cannot be limited to only those who will love us back.
Jesus, even at his death, loved those who were murdering him. Are we capable of loving those sinned against us? This question is one we must consider as we approach the time of our death. At the Judgment, the Lord is going to be interested in our acts of love and whether our faith was strong enough to love despite the threats of those who want to push us off a cliff.
What will be the rest of your story?
Deacon Dan Gilbert