AUGUST 23, 2009 – LUKE 4; 16-30
THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME TO BRING GLAD TIDDINGS TO THE POOR. This passage of Saint Luke’s gospel portrays two distinct incidents. The first is meant to acquaint us with the earlier situation in our Lord’s life in his relations with his fellow townsmen. During that period he was looked up to, his gifts recognized, and admired. He spoke with admirable grace and eloquence, revealing an impressive familiarity with the Scriptures. Then very abruptly the scene changes but Luke does not state that he is conflating a second, later occasion with this account of an earlier phase of his ministry. At this subsequent encounter, also in the synagogue, the mood is altogether different. Our Lord, who had meantime, performed miraculous healings elsewhere, had been constrained among his own neighbors who showed too little faith in the meaning of his ministry and of his own person. “Is this not the son of Joseph?”, they complained:. ‘How is it that he raises himself above us to speak in the name of God? And make demands upon us?’ In the face of such unbelief in the divine source of his preaching and the consequent lack of understanding of his person, our Lord, on this second occasion rebukes his audience with a warning that they are placing themselves outside of God’s favor. “It was to none of these that Elias was sent, but to a widow of Zarephath” that is to say, the Israelites were by-passed in favor of a stranger who had faith in God’s prophet.
A second parable makes the same point no less forcibly: God remains free to bestow his favors where He chooses, healing a pagan who is a leper because he, Naamen, chooses to obey the word of the prophet Elijah, thus displaying a humble faith in the word sent by God. Our Lord’s rebuke of the carnal, materialist-minded neighbors is felt not as a deserved correction and warning, but rather as an insult that they resent with such passion as to angrily seek to kill him.
This dramatic scene that Luke places early in his account of our Lord’s active life sets Jesus ministry off from the society of his day; he is, early on, at odds with the society of his time. He does not fit in with their ways of thinking, and he will not adapt to their expectations for the sake of success and acceptance. He brings a message directly from God his Father that is not of this world, while it is addressed to this world of time and matter. Eventually, he would be put to death by the men of authority because he insisted on maintaining this same demand that he be accepted as introducing an order of things in conformity with God’s holy plan for his creatures that is not of this world.
This teaching of our Lord is no less timely for us today than it was in his own time. Many in our Church have accepted compromises with this world that make a mockery of the faith while claiming to belong to the people of God. They elect men and women to public office who make laws that are clearly opposed to the law of God as interpreted and proclaimed by the Church. Such practice leads to the same kind of practical unbelief that Jesus encountered in his own home-town. We in this country are not immune to it and the Catholic Church is weakened and threatened by this subtle temptation to adapt to the values of this world, and not make an issue of unpopular moral matters.
Jesus, however, stood for another way that was unpopular and made enemies, even of neighbors. We know that eventually he was defeated in the eyes of his opposition, only to be victorious in his fidelity to God the Father. The resurrection was the form his victory took, but only after his passion and death. It is significant that he himself did not appear to any of his enemies, to those who had the power to have him executed, after he rose. He showed himself only to those who chose to remain together, identified as his followers, even when he seemed defeated. Upon encountering him their faith was strengthened and renewed and their witness being accepted continues to the present day. We celebrate the victory of our risen Savior at this Eucharist. May our faith prove strong and true, without compromise, so that we become partakers of the love he offers us unto life eternal. &
Go to index page