REJECTION AND OPPOSITION TO SERVANTS OF GOD
HOMILY FOR FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C. Readings: Jeremiah 1:4-5,17-19; Psalm 71; 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13 and Luke 4:21-30.
Naturally, everyone wants to be accepted and some go as far as denting the image of others and presenting themselves ‘as good persons’ for them to be accepted. Rejection teaches us about where we stand. Today’s liturgy draws our attention to rejection and opposition that might cross our paths as in the case of Christ and the prophet Jeremiah.
The first reading presents to us the call of Jeremiah to the prophetic ministry. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you as prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah existed in the mind and plan of God before he ever existed in his mother’s womb. The word ‘formed’ here is used in Genesis 2:7 to speak of God forming man from dust of the earth, which is also related to the potter.
God has called, sanctified and appointed Jeremiah for a mission. The Israelites are familiar with things that have been set apart or consecrated for religious purposes. Among them are: the Sabbath, Tabernacle and Temple. In view of this God set Jeremiah apart for a prophetic mission to speak to his people, all He has commanded him without fear. God knew his proclamation would offend people and would later lead to his imprisonment. God knew he will experience great oppositions from his own people, specifically from kings, princes and priests. However, the Lord encouraged him to remain strong, for he has made him as a fortified city, as strong as iron pillar and impenetrable as a bronze wall. He knew they will fight against his prophet but will not prevail and he gave Jeremiah assuring words, “…for I am with you” (Jer. 1:19). It was not a promise of an easy road. It was not a promise to lie down on roses but in the mud at the bottom of the cistern prison (Jer. 37:16; 38:6).
There is always opposition on our way when we choose to serve God. Going through the gospel, we see oppositions to Christ’s ministry too immediately in various ways after his proclamation of his mission when he read from the prophet Isaiah (61:1-2) in the synagogue. After they had spoken well of him, they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” In a way to say ‘who does Jesus think he is?’ and Jesus said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself; what we have heard you did in Capernaum, do here also in your own country.’” Invariably, Christ had done wonderful things in Capernaum, which is a Gentile territory, and for the Jewish people, the Gentiles are less deserving because they are considered as sinners. Now Christ is among his own people: the Jews, they expect great things from him. So the phrase, “Physician, heal yourself!” (v. 23) appears to mean, ‘If you were able to heal the underserving people of Capernaum, you should be able to do even better for your own people.’ In view of the above, Christ said to the crowd, “No prophet is acceptable in his own country” (v.24). They considered themselves as superior to Christ to command his power at their own discretion, making a demand of obedience with expectation of Christ’s loyalty to them.
They wanted special favours as some of us do when we have our sons, siblings or friends as priests or in high-ranked social/political offices. For Christ, this does not matter and he made them understand the fact that their failure to receive him had nothing to do with him but everything to do with them. He was truly God and they would not receive him. Their rejection said more about them than about Christ. He also made them understand that people we often consider undeserving and perhaps strange are many times recipients of God’s miraculous power. They wanted a miracle and Jesus did one right in front of them, by escaping miraculously from their midst in their attempt to throw him off the cliff.
Christ did not seek to please his audience and so, as priests and consecrated men and women, and as Christians, we should deviate from pleasing people at the detriment of pleasing God in our lives and ministries. Living out this truth would bring us challenges. It could be challenges on material needs, it could be confrontations, imprisonments or in other forms. Let us seek solace in Christ because the life of a prophet or a Christian is never a bed of roses. It has moments of oppositions, persecutions, rejections and even threats to life.
St. Paul in the second reading gives us the cardinal virtues to motivate us in our mission as Christians. He said, “Faith, hope and love abides; but the greatest of these is love.” He defined love to be patient and kind; love is not jealous nor boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way… It does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, it enables us to forgive those who oppose and reject us. Love never ends.
In the words of St. Augustine, “Love and do whatever you want to do.” With this in mind, we can bear witness to the Christ even when faced with the fear rejection, oppositions or our lives are threatened, we are assured of God’s word to Jeremiah, “I am with you, to deliver you” and can say like the psalmist, “In you O Lord I take refuge, let me never be put to shame.”
Fr. Ken Dogbo, OSJ