Homilies written and presented by Monsignor Peter Magee
Homily 2-1-2004
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Sunday 4(C): Read Jer 1, 4-5, 17-19; I Cor 13, 4-13; Lk 4, 21-30

 

                Using the beautiful words of Isaiah, Jesus identified Himself to His home-town folks as the Messiah who had come to proclaim a “year of favor from the Lord.” The folks were delighted by His lovely words, but clearly had little intention of accepting “the son of Joseph” as the Messiah. At most, they felt, He might be a good speaker and perform some miracles; He should stay in Nazareth and have the decency to cure His own folks and make His home-town famous, and maybe even rich, by attracting strangers. Jesus, of course, had no intention of being domesticated by the narrow-mindedness and faithlessness of the Nazarenes. He tells them as much by reminding them of two other men sent to Israel by God who were also confronted with a lack of faith, viz. Elijah and Elisha. The Nazarenes react to this reminder with furious disdain and mob violence. Jesus’ only course of action was to leave Nazareth in hurried dismay. Apparently, His first experience of preaching had been, as Cardinal Martini once pointed out, a total disaster: no-one listened, no-one believed and no-one wanted Him any more.

                We might ask: was Jesus unnecessarily provocative? Shouldn’t He have “done what Jesus would do”, understanding here by “Jesus” our oft too comfortable caricature of the real Jesus? “Now, now, Jesus –we might say- be nice! Be understanding! Have patience … and … well, never mind that little sin of theirs! Don’t be harsh, Jesus dear: remember what good St. Paul writes about love not being pompous or inflated or rude or quick-tempered.” So, was Jesus lacking in love the way He spoke and acted in Nazareth? Was He acting like an Old Testament prophet, like Jeremiah, thinking only in terms of being a “fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass against the whole land”? Was He looking for a fight? Was He suffering from an inferiority complex and just trying to prove Himself some kind of biblical macho?

                We could take this even further and suggest that, again using the words of St. Paul, Jesus was being short-sighted in the way He handled Himself at Nazareth. St. Paul makes it clear that prophecy will one day fail, and only love will remain. “What’s the point, then, dearest Jesus, of all your prophesying when, at the end, God’s love will prevail and everyone will be happy ever after . . .?”

                With this, I hope to have stirred you to focus on what is really at stake in the almost tragic episode of Jesus’ visit to Nazareth.

                Undoubtedly it was the hope of Jesus that He would be accepted by the people of His own home town, but He was not looking for the kind of acceptance we associate with an Olympic gold-medallist. Jesus did not seek acclaim. Nor did He seek the kind of acceptance that would require of Him to fit the preconceived notions of the Nazarenes. Remember, He declared fulfilled in Himself the prophecy of Isaiah about the Messiah, and it was as the Messiah, or the Christ, that He sought acceptance. He therefore sought acceptance by faith. When, however, He heard the people say, “this is Joseph’s son, surely?”, He knew that their hearts had remained closed in the realm of human appearances and human respect, and He told them: “just as Elijah and Elisha found no faith in Yahweh among the Israelites, so I find among you Nazarenes no faith in me as the divine Messiah.” That is why they desire to kill Him: He was guilty of blasphemy, equating Himself with Yahweh.

                You might still object: “why could He not have gone about giving His reprimand more lovingly? Do we not speak of Him as gentle and humble of Heart?”

                Here we touch upon one of the most difficult aspects of our experience as human beings and as believers in Jesus Christ. One of the major problems is our use and our understanding of the word “love”. Today, this word has, to some extent, been hijacked and reduced to meaning a commodity that has been privatized and commercialized. By commodity, I mean an object of self-satisfying consumption: “I need to get my love, I need to feel my share of love.” By privatized, I mean love is treated much the same way as morality and religion are mischaracterized today: “keep it to yourself, it’s merely your private business.” By commercialized, I mean advertised, bought and sold and, if needs be, discarded. Now, I am not saying that there is no genuine love around in our time. But this kind of watered-down understanding of love has become an umbrella to justify everything from casual sex to divorce and from pornography to so-called reality TV. Of course, when the true wine of love is so watered-down that it itself becomes water, then people begin to believe that the water is wine. Should someone then insist on seeking real wine, they are considered as being too demanding, too hard to please, yes, and even too provocative.

                A significant reason, if not the reason, behind this dilution of love is the separation of love from truth. Again, truth is also a word that has suffered a sort of kidnapping and dilution, to the point of meaning almost anything anyone wants it to mean. Most disturbing is that positive science has sought to reserve for itself a monopoly on the meaning of truth. If something cannot be verified scientifically, i.e. proven by science’s own standards, then it is often dismissed as fable, speculation, opinion, illusion or some other such word. A truth that is not scientific is thought, at best, to be pleasantly irrelevant. Yet in Sacred Scripture, and therefore in the mind, heart and usage of Jesus, the words love and truth mean so much more and are, in fact, inseparable.

                Ultimately, truth and love are the reality of God Himself. No love can be love if God is not present: any love, for all that it may call itself love, but which cannot stand in the presence of God, is a fake love, is an untrue love. Love is by definition the profoundest bond between persons, and thus cannot be a commodity for sale or for greedy consumption; nor can it therefore be private in the sense of a solitary, individualistic self-satisfaction. This is because God is present in any true love, and by that very fact unites us to Himself and to one another, even to those whom we do not know. Love is a free and sincere gift of one’s own self, and so cannot be commercialized. To commercialize love is to usurp the power to sell God, something Judas did cynically with nothing less than a kiss.

                Similarly, truth in its deepest and biblical sense refers to God’s fidelity to the love He has shown us in creating and redeeming us in His Beloved Son, who is the Truth itself. Scientific truth is, of course, a wonderful thing: it shows forth the beauty of God’s creation in the insight and inventions it discovers. But you cannot put Christ, the Truth of the Gospel, under a microscope; Einstein himself can say nothing about the Eucharist or the Resurrection. Hence, scientific truth must remain at the service of the truth about the human person, and that truth is fully revealed only by Christ and in Christ. When science oversteps that service, for example, in human cloning, it encroaches upon the Kingdom of Christ. Scientific truth is but one reflection of the fullness of God’s truth; so is political truth (when it is actually true), legal truth (both in its constitution and interpretation), aesthetic truth and every other truth that is truth. They all form part of the manifold fidelity of God to Himself and to mankind, although that fidelity far surpasses the sum of all these different dimensions of the truth.

                Therefore, Jesus did not fail to love the Nazarenes when He proclaimed the truth about Himself and about them. Rather, He would have failed to love them had He not done so. When someone who truly loves speaks a truth to the beloved that is difficult for the beloved to accept, because it is perceived by the beloved as criticism or rejection, then that love and truth are themselves declared suspect or false by that same beloved. In fact, of course, they are neither false nor suspect. Rather, both are authentic, for it is a genuine love, a true love, which seeks to free the beloved from the sin or evil which afflicts them. How can my love be true if I fail to save my beloved from their affliction, especially when they do not see it or do not want to see it? It is the sin in the beloved which seeks to convince the same beloved that the lover who challenges them to be rid of sin is himself evil. The old deception is: “if you loved me, you wouldn’t tell me I’m not living the truth, you’d tell me what I want to hear.” The older truth is, however: “because I love you, love impels me to tell you where the lack of truth in you is destroying you, and so, I will tell you precisely what you do not want to hear.”

                This is what motivates the prophets to speak, because it motivates God who sent them. More radically still, it motivates Jesus of Nazareth since the very reason for His coming among us was to free us, who are His beloved, from sin. It also motivates the Church in Her prophetic mission to denounce evil in any and all its forms irrespective of the reaction of the world or, indeed, of Her own sons and daughters. Sensitivity to modern living and thinking must surely be present in Her, but it cannot silence Her voice to proclaim that the truth of the human person and the true love of the human person is revealed only and fully in Jesus Christ. To some that may seem provocative, to others obsolete, to yet others politically imprudent, to others still, hypocritical or simply irrelevant. So be it. The Church and Her prophets may suffer the same fate in the modern city that the Nazarenes wished to foist upon Jesus by hurling Him headlong out of their town. The Church may be misunderstood for the motivation of Her clear teaching on what is right and what is wrong. Yet, irrespective of that, Her love for all the children of mankind will remain steadfast because Her fidelity to the truth of Christ will not, cannot, fail. And, at the threshold of heaven, She will be there to assist all who seek Her help to enter upon the eternal year of favor from the Lord, in the truth and the love of Heaven.