To read the texts click on the texts: Jer 1:4-5, 17, 18-19; 1 Cor 12:31-13:13; Lk 4:21-30
The concluding verse in the Gospel reading of today contains the response of Jesus to the rejection that he faced in his hometown. “But he (Jesus) passed through the midst of them and went on his way”, summarizes the meaning of the entire episode of Jesus in the synagogue. This last verse also throws light on the first and second readings of today.
The first public act of Jesus, in the Gospel of Luke, takes place after his baptism and after overcoming temptation. This first public act is his reading the text from Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth, his hometown. The initial response of those who listen to him is positive. “They spoke well of him”, and they marvelled at his graciousness. However, this positive response soon became, not merely negative but, antagonistic, so much so that they wanted to throw Jesus down the cliff. What were the possible reasons for this change?
The answer to this question is found, not only in the Gospel text itself, but also, in the first reading of today which contains the meaning of the vocation of a prophet. The people of Jesus’ hometown had set their minds about what they wanted to hear. As long as the content of Jesus’ proclamation coincided with their way of thinking, everything was bright and sunny, and they thought him gracious but, from the moment it differed, the antagonism began. This was because what Jesus was saying was something that was radically new and people generally do not like to hear new things. They prefer the old, the tried, the tested, the familiar, and that with which they are comfortable. They had convinced themselves that they were, indeed, the chosen people and that God’s concern, care, and mercy, were restricted to them, and for them, exclusively. However, Jesus revealed that, while he had come to comfort the afflicted, he had also come to afflict the comfortable. This meant that, no matter how strongly they opposed the idea, God’s graciousness, mercy, forgiveness, and love, could never be restricted to any one particular group. Those gifts were available to anyone and everyone who was open to receive them. There would be no “chosen people” because everyone was now chosen. The grace that flowed, which was unmerited, was also unrestricted. It was given freely, it was given in abundance, and it was given without consideration of caste, colour, or creed.
This interpretation of Jesus was not made up by him, but was the outcome of his own experience at his baptism and after. He was so convinced of this truth that he did not mind becoming unpopular and disliked because he spoke what God commanded him to speak. He spoke on behalf of God as the prophet is wont to do. He would brook no compromise.
This command to speak God’s word came also to the prophet Jeremiah, as the first reading of today tells us and, like in the case of Jesus, the command was not arbitrary but deliberate. Jeremiah, too, was chosen by God to speak a specific word. It was a word that would not necessarily be popular but it was a word that would be fulfilled. Jeremiah would have to speak that word, no matter the consequences, because it was a word that was true. God also gave Jeremiah encouragement. The encouragement was that God would sustain him, even in the most difficult moments of his life. Though initially reluctant, Jeremiah obeyed the command of the Lord and spoke God’s word to all.
Thus, the work of a prophet is not a private matter. It has to do with the world at large. It is not confined to a particular community. It is not an exclusive word. More importantly, it is not theoretical but a very practical and tangible word. It is about what is going on in the world and about what God is going to do about it. It is, thus, a word that threatens the wrong doers and yet, a word that comforts the oppressed and the down trodden. Since the wrong doers are threatened by the word, the life of the prophet is always in danger. It is very likely that those to whom the word applies might not want to hear it. This is because it calls for a radical transformation on their part and this, very few are willing to do. Even as this is so, the prophet knows that he/she cannot but speak the word. The prophet’s compulsion comes from within when the call is genuine, and no threat, intimidation, bullying, or pressure, can put an end to the word that must be spoken. This was the case with Jeremiah and, even more clearly, the case with Jesus. The last verse of today’s Gospel makes this explicit. Even at the risk of danger to his life, Jesus would not be deterred from his mission and task. He knew that he stood under a higher calling and the assurance and confidence that he received from God was sufficient to sustain him.
This basis of the confidence that Jesus had, and the assurance that he received, is given by Paul in the second reading of today where he explains the meaning of love. Jesus was aware that he was loved unconditionally by the Father which, for him, meant that nothing that was detrimental would ever happen to him. His experience of being loved by the Father was so powerful that he could only respond be being obedient to the Father’s command to speak words of unconditional and eternal love.
The challenge that the readings pose to each one us who are disciples of Jesus is to continue to speak that prophetic word which the world needs so much to hear today. It is a word which must make the poor aware of their rights and privileges. It is a word which must make those who still engage in oppression and domination of the poor realise the folly of their ways. It is a word that must be spoken boldly and courageously. It is a word that must be spoken unflinchingly and fearlessly. It is a word that must be spoken because it is the word that comes, even today, from God.