4th Sunday Homily in Ordinary Time Year C

Jer l:4f., 17-19 1 Cor 12:31-13:13 (or 13:4-13) Lk 4:21-30. The Largeness of Love. Who Is Jesus?; Open vs. Closed Persons; Love Must Be Broad as Well as Deep.

In choosing readings for their wedding Mass, young couples often pick today’s section of St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. This is Paul‘s “Hymn to Love”, beautiful as well as instructive, sublime in tone yet practical in application. It reminds us of what married love, and all love, should be. Paul wrote it, though, specifically to the people of Corinth. Wise in the ways of the world, they preferred seductive gifts that were the most sensational.

In informing them that the most important gift of all is love, Paul first contrasted love with the more spectacular gifts, the possession of which, if love is absent, is useless. Speaking in tongues was a characteristic of pagan worship of the time, accompanied by a clashing and clanging of cymbals and the blasting of trumpets to make the show alluring. And what they liked about prophecy was especially the power that accompanied it —- an attraction that’s still with us, as witnessed by our fondness for magic and spellbinding speeches.

Even those who boast a strong faith, if they lack love, can be cruel. Those who “give everything” and are thus adjudged by their neighbours to be “charitable” can in reality, if they are without love, be prideful, contemptuous, and humiliating to the people who are objects of their largesse. And, says Paul, even if I hand my body over, if I don’t have love, it can put me on the borders of dangerous display in religion.

Then Paul outlines what love does and doesn’t do. It’s Paul’s idea of the life—giving qualities that love ought to have—not a complete list, but addressing what he saw among the Corinthians. He says, for example, that love is patient, and that’s obvious. It’s kind, a quality which, I’m afraid, isn’t always true of Christians — as those Christians who have persecuted in Christ’s gentle name bear witness. A good example of loving kindness is Jesus’ conduct with the woman taken in adultery.

Love isn’t jealous — it doesn’t begrudge the beloved all good for—tune. It isn’t pompous — it is, rather, self—effacing. It isn’t inflated with its own importance. It’s never rude, but is tactful, polite, and— very important — gracious. It’s not self-seeking. Rather than lining up with those litigious people who seem in our time to seek the last pound of the flesh of their rights, lovers think first rather of their duties. Love isn’t’ prone to anger. Concerned about the other, it doesn’t go into self-centred bursts of temper or exasperation. It doesn’t brood, keeping records like an accountant. It doesn’t rejoice over hardship, but does what’s more difficult. It rejoices with those who are happy.

Full of forbearance, love can gloss over whatever human faults are present in the beloved. It’s trusting, believing the best of others. Full of hope, it realizes that, despite our imperfections, God isn’t finished with us yet. And it has the power to endure. It can conquer all defects, and can transform with a Cinderella-like wonder.

Lastly, Paul goes back to considering love in the light of the other gifts. Whereas all else will fail — 31] else, even knowledge with its power — our love shall still be there. It’s complete. Though we now see the world distortedly as through an imperfect mirror, when we see things as they are we shall realize that love is what counts. And it’s supreme, reigning over even the considerable virtues of faith and hope, which it will outlast.

Thinking about this passage and, here as always with the Sacred Scriptures, applying them to ourselves, we should ask if we can add other characteristics of Christian love to Paul’s list. Some people have done that, and come up with cute sayings like “Love is… a warm puppy.” If I were asked to complete a statement that began “Love is…” I would say that a description that would have to be added in our time would contain “largeness”: “Love is… large.”

Largeness is always present in great love. Take, for instance, from today’s First Reading, the example of Jeremiah, born around 645 BC. When he received God’s call to be His prophet, he was a generous youth of about nineteen or twenty. His country, Judah, was a puppet in the hands of Assyria. Contrary to what the Israelites thought —— those who liked to consider themselves alone as God’s “chosen people” —— God was calling Jeremiah to be a prophet not only to the people of Israel, but to all the nations (v. 5).

God told him (v. 19) that the people would fight against him. And Jeremiah was by inclination unskilled in confronting hardened opponents, the entrenched “city hall” of political and religious leaders. Reacting to Jeremiah’s hesitancy, God presented him with images of strength into which God had made him (v. 18) — a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass. Because Jeremiah’s love was large, he generously accepted God’s call, and gave himself completely to his searing assignment.

The preeminent example of one whose love was large enough to match his mission is, of course, Jesus. Today’s passage from St Luke is a continuation from last week’s scene of Jesus in the synagogue, and it presents the other half of that story. Although Jesus had to disagree with some of the things that were taught and done in the synagogue, he, unlike many modern Church critics, nevertheless faithfully attended the synagogue Sabbath services.

He began by stating the theme of his sermon (v. 21) – that very day this Scripture passage was being fulfilled in the villagers’ hearing. Initially it didn’t sink in that Jesus was talking about himself. The group listening to our Lord that day were, after all, many of the people who had known him when he was growing up — his teachers, the cobbler who repaired the family sandals, storekeepers who sold them food, childhood companions who ran with him through the city’s streets.

We can imagine them remembering the young boy who’d come to the synagogue with his parents. So nice to have him back, and so good to know he hadn’t forgotten his religious training! Religion can be like a hometown — familiar, unchanging, a constant in a chaotic world. We want to wrap religion around us like a security blanket and often to stay the same – and Jesus didn’t provide that. So –ominously –they also asked each other. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” (v. 22)

Knowing their quandary, Jesus tried (vv. 23f.) to broaden their understanding of his role. First he mentioned obliquely his awareness of the jealousy of the people of Nazareth over that he’d done at Capernaum (v. 23). Then (vv. 25-27) he interpreted the Scriptures –verse they probably knew by heart. He said that two of their favourite prophets, Elijah and Elisha, had worked many miracles among some non-Jews and were more favourably received by them than by some Jews.

The implication was that Jesus’ mission can’t be limited to one people or to one social and religious group, any more than God’s love can. The people of Nazareth failed to understand that with God love begins wherever human need is found. No one was going to tell them that religion had to go so far as Elijah travelling to Sidon, or Elisha cleansing a Syrian, or even Isaiah teaching good news for the poor and liberty for the oppressed.

Besides, Jesus was a bundle of contradictions, His mission was weighted in favour of the poor, yet he dined with the wealthy; he reprimanded his disciples for their ambiton, and yet constantly called on the rich and powerful to be, like himeself, of service to the poor and powerless; and he made it clear that all people from all walks of life and from all nations will receive his saving message.

For Istrealites, these were fighting words! The people in the synagogue thought Jesus blasphemous in identifying himself with Elijah and Elisha, arrogant in thinking himself better than they, insulted if foreigners would heed a prophet better than they would. They asked the question often asked of anyone who dares to speak out for God, “Who do you think you are?”

At the beginning of the episode, the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him (v. 20) By the end of the episode, they looked no farther than their eyes could see, and showed fierce hatred. They led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, intending to hurl him down headlong over its edge to his death (v. 29). But because his time had not yet come, he walked through them and went away (v. 30). When in the Father’s wisdom the time for the end of Jesus’ ministry would arrive, Jesus would be led to another hill, Calvary, outside another city, Jerusalem, there to be put to death for all the human race.

Jesus’ sacrifice became possible because of the largeness of divine love. We ought to practice this kind of love by word and example — in prophetically speaking out God’s truth, and in honouring others who do. Prophecy isn’t so much picturing the future as it is challenging us to return to faithful observance of our obligations. We’re reminded of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, “The Great Stone Face”, in which a small town in New England waited for the coming of a prophet and holy man who would look like the features of a stone outcropping in a local hillside. They waited, but no one ever seemed to come, and the village lost hope and spirit. One day an old man of the town died and, as he was laid out, someone noticed that he did look like the face in the hill. He had been with them all the time and they never recognized him until it was too late!

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