FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19 | Psalm 71:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 15-17 | 1 Corinthians 13:4-13 | Luke 4:21-30
God is love as well as truth. The readings this Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time call us to reflect on “truth” and “love” and the relationship between them.
A father bought a lie-detecting robot equipped with artificial intelligence that lets out a loud “WOOP WOOP WOOP!” and slaps people when they lie. He decided to test it out at dinner one night. He asked his teenage son what he did that afternoon. “I did some schoolwork,” the boy exclaimed. The robot went “WOOP WOOP WOOP!” and slapped the son. The son said, “Okay, I was at a friend's house watching movies but you'll be proud of me because we watched “The Young Messiah". The robot went “WOOP WOOP WOOP!” and slapped the son a second time. The father said, “At your age I never lied to my parents!" “WOOP WOOP WOOP!” the robot went and slapped the father. The mother laughed quietly and said, “Well, he certainly is your son!” “WOOP WOOP WOOP!” the robot went and then slapped the mother.
The word prophet comes from the Greek προφήτης (prophḗtēs) which means "mouthpiece". The task of a prophet is to speak and live out God's truth. The Lord said to Jeremiah, “I have put my words in your mouth” (Jer 1:9). Being a mouthpiece for the word of the Lord was often a dangerous calling. In fact, Israel has a long history of rejecting prophets. People frequently mocked, rejected, persecuted, and even killed God’s prophets, especially if they do not like what they are hearing. As Athenian philosopher Plato observed, “No one is more hated than he who speaks the truth.” Our First Reading tells us how God called Jeremiah and equipped him to face opposition. Jeremiah hesitated but God motivated him with four assertions: "I formed you"; "I knew you"; "I dedicated you"; and "I appointed you". Perhaps we have experienced the pain of rejection, betrayal, abandonment, or violated trust when we reach out to friends and family members about the truth. But we have to be bold to speak God's truth. Jeremiah prophesied about the truth of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon's destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem and the seventy years exile. Soon after he started to preach the truth, he had few friends left. He was beaten, scourged and thrown into prison. He was not discouraged though. Relying on God’s help, he went against the grain, challenging the false assumptions and erroneous religious beliefs of the leaders and people, who lived in the illusion of being faithful and pious. Jeremiah has a great deal to teach us. He was willing to state not what was popular but rather what was true. He was a man who preached a dangerous message and experienced the backlash, but knew deep down he could do nothing less. God is also calling you and me to share the truth with the world in a very particular way. The question is, will we let God speak the truth through our lives? Are we for the truth or are we promoting false information or perpetuating conspiracy theories? “WOOP WOOP WOOP!” the robot goes and then slaps who?
Eduardo went to church. He forgot to switch off his phone and it rang during prayer. The priest scolded him. The congregation admonished him after prayers for interrupting the silence. His wife kept on lecturing him on his carelessness all the way home. One could see the shame, embarrassment and humiliation on his face. After all this, he never stepped foot in the church again. That evening, he went to a bar. He was still nervous and trembling. He spilled his drink on the table by accident. The barista apologized and gave him paper towels to clean himself. The janitor mopped the floor. The manager offered him a complimentary drink. She also gave him a huge hug and a peck while saying, “Don’t worry man. Who doesn’t make mistakes?”. He has not stopped going to that bar since then.
The Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, teaches that to become a prophet, one must have love. Paul was addressing a community on the verge of self-destruction because of their inability to recognize that Jesus is present in each member of the community. He warns them that even the gifts of tongues, knowledge, faith, prophecy and generosity are useless if they do not treat each other accordingly. No matter what our mission or message, it must always be rooted in charity. Services and ministries can be exercised for the wrong reasons, for example to gain popularity or for profit. A person without love is self-centered and contentious, one who destroys the bonds of the community.
A priest agreed to conduct the funeral of notorious bank robber named Fernando. Marco, his brother and most sought after and hired assassin promised that if the priest said that Fernando lived like an angel, he would donate ₱500,000 to the church. If he didn't, then he would be a dead man. At the funeral, the priest told how Fernando robbed everyone he could, cheated, lied and got away with it. Marco was getting more and more furious. Then at the very end the priest said, "Fernando was guilty of all these things, but compared to his brother Marco, he was an angel."
In our Gospel, the people in Nazareth were slow to believe that this young man who had grown up among them was the one who would bring Isaiah's prophecies to fulfillment. They got upset when he read from the book of the prophet Isaiah and left out the parts they really wanted to hear – how the rich and powerful Gentiles would be their slaves, they would get all of the Gentiles’ wealth, and they would be on top again. Instead, Jesus told them that God had other plans for the Gentiles. Jesus reminded them about the Gentile widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:7-24) and Naaman, the Syrian military general (2 Kings 7:3-10). He then angered them when he complimented the gentiles who seemed to have shown more faith in God than the "chosen ones" of Israel. Like the prophets before Him, Jesus receives hostile treatment from a recalcitrant crowd. The people were so angry they want to throw him off a cliff. It wasn't what they wanted to hear, but Jesus told them the truth. How have you been challenged by prophets in your life? How would you react when one speaks the truth to you? The problem nowadays is that, all too often, people use “I’m entitled to my opinion” to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. While we all are entitled to our own opinions, we are not entitled to our own facts. Truth can’t be altered or amended. Truth – by its very nature is consistent, reliable, bedrock – you don’t change “truth.” God is truth and delights in truth. "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." (3 John 1:4) Let’s seek the truth and help others find Happiness in God’s Truth. <enrique,ofs>
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum