Scripture Commentary 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle C

1st Reading – Jeremiah 1: 4-5, 17-19

Jeremiah is the Rodney Dangerfield of prophets, the man who invented the tradition that a prophet doesn’t “get any respect” in his own country.  Jeremiah, during his long career as a prophet in Judah, faced a mob that demanded he be put to death; was whipped and put in stocks (20:2); was beaten and thrown into prison for ‘a long time’ (37:15); was thrown into a cistern with mud up to his armpits and left to starve (38:6); and was kept under house arrest (39:15).  After the fall of Jerusalem, he wound up in Egypt where, according to tradition, his own people stoned him to death.

Jeremiah did not walk around with a smile button on his shirt.  “Woe to me, mother, that you gave me birth!”  (15:10)  Yet he carried out his mission with intensity.  He always moved from anger and reproach to hope (US Catholic, Kenneth Guentert).  Compare this with our upcoming Gospel reading.  How might you move from anger to hope with the troubles in your life?

During Jeremiah’s ministry of 45 years, the world changed dramatically.  When he began, Assyria was still the world’s greatest power (Northern and Southern Kingdoms have separated), but by the time he died in exile in Egypt, Babylon stood supreme (Boadt, L.  Reading the Old Testament, 363). When there is division and chaos, it is often hard to be sure of what the right course of action is…Jeremiah had his work cut out for him!

2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 12: 31- 13: 13

Re-read this passage replacing the word “love’ for ‘God’.  How does it change for you?

From M. Birmingham, W&W, p. 355:

Paul’s community was experiencing internal strife and division.  Some people (gnostics: matter bad/spirit good, Jesus not really human so no real suffering or physical resurrection), glorifying in their own manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit, had set themselves apart as the spiritual elite.  Because of their self-righteous, emotional, and overt display of charisms, Paul wrote to them to remind them that God was the Giver of gifts and no one had reason to boast.  Paul asserted that the gifts were for the uplifting of the community, not for personal edification.  The gifts meant nothing if love was absent.  He asserts that self-giving love toward one another should be the response of every member of the community.  This passage is often read and preached during nuptial celebrations, but it has an ecclesial importance.  The church is a community of love.

The Gospel: Luke 4:21-30

Jesus shocks and surprises the people of his hometown of Nazareth; has God ever surprised – shocked you?  How does this gospel strike you? – challenge you?

Jesus, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, challenged people with an alternative to the reality of their lives.  Jesus was certainly not a politician, as we see here in this passage. The good news that Jesus came to share is always good and always new, but not always comfortable.  It would seem that Jesus would have been wiser to have quit while he was ahead.  Rather, he pushed on to an inclusive message that ‘forced’ choices that were disturbing. That is what prophets do.  This hometown crowd is angered to hear that Jesus will share blessings and wonders with others – even Gentiles.  Apparently, they took this ‘good news’ for others as bad news for themselves.             (Living Liturgy, p. 50 – 51)

From John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context”:
Remember: no one in Jesus’ culture was expected to improve on the lot of the parents. One was expected to safeguard the family’s honor. In today’s reading Jesus is seen by others in his village to be stepping shamefully beyond his family boundaries. Then Jesus seems to rub salt into the wound by his insulting behavior — preaching in his hometown and healing elsewhere. He does not minister to his own – but they have heard of him doing things in Capernaum, a place that was noted for having many Gentiles – people who were not of his own kind. To direct his healing activities to such a place rather than his own hometown and blood relatives was to transgress very seriously against family honor. Honor in the Mediterranean world was a matter of life and death.

3 themes found in Luke’s Gospel

  1. World Affirmation:  God loves creation; God values and works in human culture and activities.
  2. The Great Reversal:  The gospel challenges the status quo, affirming those who have been rejected and abused.
  3. Universal Salvation:  Human values are reversed, not for punishing the wicked, but for saving the lost, poor, sick, downtrodden.

(taken from The Gospel of Luke, Luke Timothy Johnson, p.21-23)

The scriptures call us to see simply this:  the trouble with fences and boxes is that God is never in them!”  (Celebrations, Feb. 1998)

It was Jesus’ habit to go to the Synagogue on the Sabbath Day.  There must have been many things with which He radically disagreed and which grated on Him – yet He went.  The worship of the Synagogue might be far from perfect; yet Jesus never omitted to join Himself to God’s worshipping people on God’s day  (Barclay, Gospel of Luke, 45).

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