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A Prophet of Love: Reflecting on the Sunday Gospel

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It takes an open heart and mind to find our vocation, and sometimes a lot of courage to follow it.

Living the Word

The Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year C)

January 31, 2016

Jesus began speaking in the synagogue, saying: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.
They also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?”

He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb, ‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’”

And he said, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place.”

—Luke 4:21-24

To read this Sunday’s Mass readings, click here.

Do you remember what you wanted to be when you grew up? I knew, for example, that I wanted to be a teacher. And as I look back at the twists and turns of my life’s journey, I see that the desire to teach has always been at work in what I’ve done, whether it’s been leading retreats, offering adult faith formation programming or writing articles and reflections like this one. Although I’ve never been a teacher in a traditional classroom, I’ve achieved that childhood dream, but in a way that I could never have imagined back then.

Others among us come to understand their vocation and their place in the world a bit later in life. And as we know, there are some who don’t seem to ever discover what — or even who — they should be. Each person’s journey of self-discovery is different, but the important thing is that we ask the questions and engage in the work of discernment with an open mind and heart.

There are times, however, when our vocational journey takes us in a direction that surprises our families and friends. This has certainly been the case for a number of priests, deacons and religious whom I know. Those who love us see that we have certain gifts or potential. It’s easy for them to imagine us being happy in an occupation or state of life that, to them, would be a perfect fit for us. But if we are courageous enough to choose a different path, it can be challenging and even disappointing for them to accept our choice.

This seems to be the dynamic at work in this Sunday’s Gospel. Continuing the story of Jesus’ visit to his hometown of Nazareth that we heard this past Sunday (during which Jesus proclaimed his “mission statement”), St. Luke tells us that the people who had known Jesus all his life couldn’t accept or imagine that he was more than they had ever thought he might be — his own vocational journey had led him down a different path.

Think of the questions the people must have been asking: “Who does he think he is?” “He’s just a tradesman. What can he do?” “Isn’t this Joseph and Mary’s son?” “How does he think he’s any better than we are?”

Jesus responds to their questions by recalling the miracles of the great prophets Elijah and Elisha for individuals who were not Israelites — God’s Chosen People — in order to show them that sometimes there is greater faith in the hearts of those on the margins or even outside the boundaries of the establishment. Jesus is also making it clear that those are the same people that he came to serve.

Why did Jesus give an answer that would only infuriate the crowd listening to him? After all, Jesus could have given lots of other responses. But simple answers and consensus weren’t the point of Jesus’ mission. As Pope Benedict XVI observed, “Jesus did not come to seek the agreement of men and women but rather — as he was to say to Pilate in the end — “to bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37). The true prophet does not obey others as he does God, and puts himself at the service of the truth, ready to pay in person.”

Jesus was truly a prophet — a prophet of love — but as Pope Benedict continues, “love has a truth of its own. Indeed, love and truth are two names of the same reality, to names of God.”

In the end, the Gospel and other readings of this Sunday’s liturgy remind us that believing in God means setting aside our own preferences and prejudices about God and faith. The challenge for us today is to continue to look for God’s presence and action in the world and live lives of loving service.

How do you imagine you would have responded if you had been part of the crowd in Nazareth?

 When have you limited another person with your expectations of him or her or vision for what that person should or should not do?

 How might your spiritual priorities and preferences be placing a limit on your ability to see God at work in your family, the Church and the world?

Words of Wisdom: “It is only gradually that the words of Scripture and of the Creed reveal something of their inner meaning. It is like the viewing of a landscape. The more we look the more we see. … There is more merit in a step taken in the dark than one that costs no effort or pain when the way is clear. That can lead to the surrender of our minds to the truth we could not, unaided, discover for ourselves, and even when accepted cannot ever fully understand. This is the truth that he is both God and man, and this we must affirm; that is the beginning of a new journey into the mystery of God, a voyage of discovery as we go in search of truth.”—Cardinal Basil Hume, The Mystery of the Incarnation

 

Silas S. Henderson is in formation with the Society of the Divine Savior (the Salvatorians) and currently serves as the managing editor of Abbey Press Publications and Deacon Digest magazine. He is the author of numerous reflections and books. He can be found at  www.fromseason2season.blogspot.com and www.facebook.com/SilasSHenderson.

 

 

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