Today’s reflection is on the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday February 3, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This reflection was given as a homily at the Deuel Vocational Institute, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in Tracy.
The Gospel today begins with, “And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth,” and it ends with, “When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong.”
Wow! That’s quite a change in attitude toward Jesus! He went from being a hero to a zero in just a few seconds. What did Jesus say that so bothered his hearers? Jesus walks into the synagogue, opens a scroll and reads the words of the prophet Isaiah that we heard in the Alleluia today, “The Lord sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to restore sight to the blind, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” And things were good, and they loved him…until the haters started in! And as we know, haters gonna hate! Everything was so good and then from somewhere in the crowd, we hear, “Hold up! Ain’t that Joseph’s kid? What the…? I know where he’s from! He ain’t no better than us!” Yep, haters gonna hate.
Jesus was not the guy they expected to be giving them the message of salvation. Worse yet, he tells them that they’re not as special as they think they are! For some reason people just like to think that they’re special and that others are not. Jesus tells them that there were lots of widows in Israel, but Elijah (the Jewish prophet) went to a widow that wasn’t Jewish! He went outside the inner circle! And how about Elisha (another Jewish prophet)–he didn’t clean any Jewish lepers, but instead went and cleansed Naaman, the Syrian! Elijah’s words and deeds say, “God loves not just you, but them too,” and Elisha’s words and deeds say, “God loves not just you, but them too,” and Jesus’ own words and actions say, “God loves not just you, but, yes, them too.” Jesus teaches us two very important things in today’s Gospel, one is that God’s love is for everyone–and not only for a select few, and secondly, the truth of God’s great love can come from anyone–even a carpenters son.
Throughout our lives we too can have a tendency to create a special “inner circle.” Close friends are okay, but closing oneself off to others goes too far. Our God is the God of inclusivity. Our God doesn’t make the circle smaller, he opens the circle wide so that all can experience his friendship and love. No matter where we are and no matter who we’re with, if we are his we will act like him–inclusive. Ask yourself, are you more exclusive or more inclusive? Do we belong to a family that always invites the stranger in? Is there always enough no matter who you have over? I had a good friend whose mom always had refried beans in a skillet and a tortilla standing by. Nobody went hungry at her house! Everyone was always welcome! Sarah loved us and fed us and we loved her right back. How about your family? How about your circle of friends? How about your workplaces? How about this place? God is calling us to broaden our horizon and our circle today.
And what about these haters that close their ears to the message of salvation because they don’t like who it’s coming from? The fact is that some people are simply not ready to hear a message of love and light and hope and inclusivity, and they will often find any excuse not to hear the word of God and be transformed. But the truth is that God has been calling broken, sinful, sorrowful people to himself since the beginning of time. God calls the most unlikely people to share the good news of salvation–murderers, adulterers, prostitutes, cowards, and thieves. God does not call the qualified, he qualifies those whom he calls. God just needs the sinful and sorrowful to repent and receive his mercy. He wants a transformation in us–he wants us to love. That’s it. Love…period.
God is love, and love must pour forth in our lives. God loves us first and we are to love others with the love that we have received. In today’s second reading St. Paul tells the Corinthians that it doesn’t matter how “churchy” they are, if they do not have love then they just don’t get it! I love the imagery of the resounding gong! He says, “If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.” If we don’t love then it’s just a bunch of noise! We are nothing and we gain nothing if we don’t have love for those around us. In this Church, we who are gathered here, if we do all kinds of praying, receive the Eucharist, hear God’s word, but then go out that door and are mean, selfish, hurtful, and hateful…we’re no better than anyone else…we have nothing…and we gain nothing, and God can’t use us to advance his kingdom of light and love.
Today’s Gospel demands that we live differently than those who do not know Jesus. It challenges us to be lights shining in this world of darkness. It calls us to wherever we are and whomever we are with to live differently; to live lovingly. I don’t know how each of you are to love in this place, or in that place, with your family, or with your friends…but you do. You know whether your actions are good and loving, or if they’re not. You know if you have the chance to be inclusive in your time and place. Choose to love. Choose to be inclusive. Choose to advance God’s kingdom. Let God heal you and transform you…and let the haters hate.
In my dad-to-day, am more inclusive or exclusive?
I’m I willing to go outside of my comfort zone and invite people into my life?
Is my love genuine and good–or am I just a “resounding gong” or a “clashing symbol”?
Do I know down deep inside, that nothing that I’ve done in my life is too great for God’s mercy, love, and forgiveness?