4th Sunday of the Year Jeremiah 1:4–5, 17–19; 1 Corinthians 12:31–13:13; Luke 4:21–30
Called to be stars In a world of darkness, we are called to shine like stars.
Someone described a biblical prophet as one who comforted the disturbed and disturbed the comfortable.
Such a prophet was Jeremiah. He lived at a time when Israel was being threatened from within by corruption and from without by a military superpower.
The situation pained Jeremiah, because he loved his country and its people. Perhaps this is why God called Jeremiah to be a prophet to his friends and neighbors.
In any event, Jeremiah accepted God’s call with great reluctance. He knew the difficulty of being a prophet in one’s own country.
And so Jeremiah began to preach. He told the people bluntly that their only hope for survival was to reform their lives and to turn to God for help.
This angered the people, who said in effect, “Who does Jeremiah think he is, passing judgment on us, his own countrymen?’’
The situation got so bad that on one occasion the authorities flogged Jeremiah publicly. On another occasion they put him in stocks,and on a third occasion they threw him into a dungeon. Jesus too experienced the difficulty and pain of being a prophet in his own country. He too experienced the rejection of friends and neighbors.
For example, today’s gospel shows us what happened when Jesus preached his very first sermon in his hometown after returning from his baptism in the Jordan.
When Jesus stood up and told his friends and neighbors that “the Spirit of the Lord’’ was upon him and that he was fulfilling the Scriptures, they were shocked. A wave of disbelief swept across the synagogue. The people began to whisper to one another:
“Isn’t he the son of Joseph? Isn’t he like us, a poor villager of Nazareth? Who does he think he is, pretending to be a prophet? Where are his credentials to prove that he’s God-appointed not self-appointed?’’
Then the whispers grew louder and louder. Soon they became shouts. And, suddenly, the situation snowballed out of control. Luke writes in his Gospel:
“They rose up,dragged Jesus out of town, and took him to the top of the hill on which their town was built. They meant to throw him over the cliff, but he walked through the middle of the crowd and went his way.” Luke 4:29–30
Luke’s description of Jesus’ first preaching experience in Nazareth brings the starry-eyed Christian down to earth with a thud.
But as we meditate on it, we suddenly remember those disturbing words that the old man Simeon uttered when Jesus was presented in the Temple: “This child is . . . a sign from God which many people will speak against. . . .” Luke 2:34
Those words would echo and reecho during the preaching ministry of Jesus.
For just as the townspeople of Nazareth challenged Jesus’ prophetic credentials, so the religious leaders of Israel challenged Jesus’ orthodoxy time after time. (Mark 2:18)
And just as the townspeople of Nazareth accused Jesus of speaking falsely, almost to the point of blaspheming, so the Pharisees accused him of being an instrument of the devil himself. (Matthew 12:24)
And just as the townspeople of Nazareth tried to kill Jesus for what he was saying, so the townspeople of Jerusalem would shout, “Crucify him! Crucify him!’’
Jesus was, indeed, a person whom many opposed and spoke against. Simeon’s words about the infant Jesus dogged the man Jesus all his life.
How does all this apply to us?
Jesus made the application himself. He said to his disciples:
“If the world hates you, just remember that it has hated me first. ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you too. . . .” John 15:18, 20
Anyone who tries to lead a Christian life today knows how true this is.
Take young people in high school or college. It isn’t long before some of them feel in their own lives the impact of what Jesus was talking about.
Ask them what happens when they try to remain honest in an exam and others around them are cheating.
Ask them what happens when they try to remain chaste at a party and others around them are doing otherwise.
Ask them what happens when they speak out against abortion and others around them are defending it.
Ask them what happens when they speak out against discrimination and others around them are assassinating the character of minorities.
And what’s true of young people is also true of older ones. We’ve all experienced rejection and persecution for our faith at some time in our lives. But we can’t let this keep us from being honest or chaste. We can’t let this keep us from defending the rights of the unborn or of minorities. And the reason is clear. Jesus said to his followers in the Sermon on the Mount: “You are like salt for all mankind. You are like light for the whole world. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead he puts it on the lampstand. . . . In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:13–16
Our vocation as Christians is to be prophets of the Father in our world, just as Jesus was a prophet of the Father in his world. This is what our baptism and confirmation were all about.
To paraphrase the words of St. Paul: “In a world of darkness, we Christians are called by God to shine like stars.’’ Philippians 2:15
Let’s close with a prayer that expresses the feelings of veryone who has ever tried to follow Jesus faithfully:
Lord, give us your love. For sometimes people reject us, and we are tempted to hate. Lord, give us your strength. For sometimes situations get tough, and we are tempted to give up.Lord, give us your courage.For sometimes pressure gets heavy,and we are tempted to give in.
Lord, help us be like salt for everyone and a light for the whole world. Lord, in a world of darkness, help us shine like stars.
Series II 4th Sunday of the Year Jeremiah 1:4–5, 17–19; 1 Corinthians 12:31–13:13; Luke 4:21–30
Rejects “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.’’ Psalm 118:22
Some years ago, Laurence J. Peter wrote a book about inefficiency in the business world. He called it The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong.
He sent the manuscript to McGraw-Hill. Their publications editor rejected it, saying, “I can foresee no commercial possibilities for such a book and consequently can offer no encouragement.’’
Peter sent his manuscript to 29 more publishers, and 29 more publishers rejected it. They agreed that its market value was limited.
After 30 rejections, you’d think that Peter would give up on his manuscript. But he didn’t; he sent it out one more time— this time to William Morrow and Company. This time, it was accepted.
And how did the book do marketwise? It sold over 8 million copies. Not bad for a book that 29 publishers rejected as having limited commercial value.
Laurence Peter’s experience of rejection has been repeated over and over in history. Consider just three other brief examples. First, there is Abraham Lincoln, regarded by many as the greatest president in American history. He was defeated seven times for elective offices before winning the greatest elective office of all.
Next, there is Vincent van Gogh, regarded by many as one of the greatest painters in history.
Yet he earned only $85 from his paintings in his lifetime. A century later, just one painting alone, Dr. Bachet, sold for the incredible sum of $82.5 million.
Finally, there is Jesus, regarded even by non-Christian historians as the greatest person who ever lived. Yet he was rejected not only by the people of his hometown— as we saw in today’s gospel reading but also by the religious leaders of his time.
The point is clear. If Lincoln, van Gogh, and Jesus had let rejection govern their lives and keep them from doing what they thought was right, our world would be incredibly impoverished today.
There’s an important message contained in this for us, the followers of Jesus.
Jesus warned us against letting rejection by others keep us from doing what we think is right. He said: “If the world hates you, just remember that it has hated me first. . . . ‘Slaves are not greater than their master.’ If people persecuted me,they will persecute you too.” John 15:18, 20
Jesus was making an important point: Anyone who hopes to build a better world must be prepared for rejection.
And almost everyone in this church has experienced the kind of rejection that Jesus was talking about. Take students in college or high school.
Ask them what happens when they try to remain honest in an exam while others around them are cheating.
Ask them what happens when they try to remain chaste at a party while others around them are being otherwise.
Ask them what happens when they speak out against abortion while others around them are defending it.
Ask them what happens when they speak out against discrimination while others around them are assassinating the character of minorities.
And what is true of young people is true of older ones, also. We’ve all experienced the kind of persecution and rejection that Jesus said we would.
This leads us to the all-important point:
As followers of Jesus, we can’t let rejection and persecution keep us from being honest and chaste. We can’t let rejection and persecution keep us from defending the rights of the unborn and standing up for the rights of minorities.
And the reason is clear. Jesus said to us in the Sermon on the Mount:
“[Y]our light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16
Our vocation as Christians is to be the prophets of the Father in our world, just as Jesus was the prophet of the Father in his world. This is what our baptism and our confirmation were all about.To paraphrase the words of St. Paul:
“In a world of darkness, we Christians are called by God to shine like stars.’’ From Philippians 2:15
Let’s close with a prayer that expresses the feelings of almost everyone who has ever tried to follow Jesus faithfully.
Lord, give us your love. For sometimes people reject us, and we are tempted to hate.
Lord, give us your strength. For sometimes situations get tough, and we are tempted to quit.
Lord, give us your courage. For sometimes pressure gets heavy, and we are tempted to give in.
Lord, give us your forgiveness. For sometimes we fail to do what we should, and we need your healing.
Series III 4th Sunday of the Year Jeremiah 1:4–5, 17–19; 1 Corinthians 12:31–13:13; Luke 4:21–30
Prophets Prophets are spokesmen for God.
They said, “Isn’t he the son of Joseph?” Luke 4:22
Years ago, before TV was widespread, a woman from New York went on vacation in a small western town.
Upon her arrival at the town’s rather primitive hotel, she asked the hotel clerk about the weather forecast for the next day.
He said he had no idea what it was. An old Indian guide, sitting nearby, heard her and said, “Rain! Lots of rain!”
The next day it poured down rain. The woman was impressed at the old guide’s ability to forecast the weather so accurately.
That night she looked up the guide and inquired about the weather for the next day.
He replied, “Blue sky! Cold air! Great day!” Again, the prediction was right on target. Now the woman was truly amazed at the old guide’s prophetic powers.
That night she sought him out a third time to get the forecast for the next day. The old guide replied, “Don’t know. Radio fell today on sidewalk. Broke into many pieces.”
The biblical prophets of old were much like that old Indian guide. Their message was not their own.
In the case of the old Indian guide, his information came from his radio.
In the case of the biblical prophets, their information was from God, who called them to be his spokesmen.
Thus in today’s first reading, God says to the prophet Jeremiah:
“[B]efore you were born I selected you to be a prophet to the nations. . . .
“[G]o to the people I send you to, and tell them everything I command you to say.” Jeremiah 1:5, 7
The prophets’ role in biblical times was twofold: to correct the people and to correct the kings of Israel.
We see this in the case of the prophet Nathan in the time of King David. He counciled David regarding God’s promise of a messiah. 2 Samuel 7:1–17 He also confronted and corrected David regarding his sinfulness. 2 Samuel 12:1–12
In other words, the prophets spoke not in their own name but in the name of God. They did this both by their words and by their deeds. This brings us to our own times. By our baptism and confirmation, each one of us was given a share in the prophetic mission of the Church. And we carry out our prophetic mission of speaking God’s message to our world by our love of God and neighbor.
Commenting on the importance of love as the way we carry out our prophetic mission, Saint Paul speaks for all Christians when he says:
I may have the gift of inspired preaching. . . . I may have all the faith needed to move mountains but if I have no love, I am nothing. I may give away everything I have, and even give up my body to be burned but if I have no love, this does me no good. 1 Corinthians 13:2–3
Paul’s point is that when it comes to speaking God’s message to our world, it is not what we do that will touch and change lives.
Rather, it is the love that motivates what we do or say that will convince people that we speak for God. A story will illustrate.
The famous violinist Fritz Kreisler was in Germany. He had an hour to spare before leaving for London for a concert. To pass the time, he walked into a nearby music store.
The store owner eyed him suspiciously and especially his violin case. Then the owner disappeared and came back with two policemen.
They arrested him, saying, “You have Fritz Kreisler’s violin.” “I am Fritz Kreisler,” he said. “You can’t pull that on us!” said the police.
Kreisler thought a moment. Then he requested permission to play. Although the police didn’t believe his words, they could not doubt his beautiful playing. And this brings us to the Gospel reading. It portrays Jesus in a prophet’s role. He confronts the people for failing to believe what he says.
When they grow hostile, Jesus courageously stands his ground. He will not soften his message, nor back away from it.
The Gospel’s message is clear.
Like Jeremiah, who had to do what he thought was right, and like Jesus, who had to do what was right, there will be times in our lives when we will also have to stand up and do what we know to be right.
The movie The Hunchback of Notre Dame is the story of a hunchback man. There is a brutal scene in the film where he is chained to a wheel and is beaten before a large crowd.
As blood flows from his wounds, he calls out pathetically for water. The mob responds by jeering at him and pelting him with stones.
Suddenly a little girl with a container of water moves through the crowd and gives him a drink.
The girl’s loving action makes him do what his torturers could not do. A tear rolls down his cheek. The girl’s loving action silences the jeering crowd.
There will be times when we too will have to stand up against the crowd just as Jeremiah, Jesus, and that little girl had to do.
By way of review, then, a prophet is one who witnesses to God and God’s message by loving words and loving deeds.
By our baptism and our confirmation, each one of us was called to be a prophet in our modern world speaking and bearing loving witness to God and God’s word.
Unless we do this as Jeremiah, Jesus, and the little girl did God’s message to our world will go unheard today.
Our hands are the only hands God has to help the needy today.
Our eyes are the only eyes God has to let his compassion shine upon a troubled world.
Our hearts are the only hearts God’s has to show the world how to live and love.