Jesus Was Sent to Our Enemies Too

January 31, 2019 - 12:03pm
Luke 4 24
Unpacking the Readings for February 3, 2019

At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth to give a homily in the synagogue.

At first, everyone is impressed. “Look at the carpenter’s son,” they might have been saying. “Look how well he turned out.” “Hear what a great speaker he is.” But then things start to go downhill. Jesus begins to speak like a prophet. He even comes quite close to revealing that he’s the long-awaited Messiah. All of a sudden, the home-town comments seem to change. “We grew up with this guy.” “He’s the son of Joseph.” “Who does he think he is?” In fact, the rejection of Jesus in his hometown is the origin of the saying, “No prophet is welcomed in his native place.”

But it’s not just that Jesus appears different than they remembered. Jesus comes with a startling message. He tells the village that God wants to save not only the Jewish people but the rest of the world as well: the outsiders—their enemies—the “unclean ones.” This was not a popular message. In fact, Jesus is almost killed in Nazareth because of it. Loving our enemies is a difficult thing to do. It’s probably one of Jesus’ best known, but least followed, teachings. Jesus is calling his followers to a kind of love that is more than mere sentimentality. It’s one that hurts, one that requires sacrifice, and one that is not often very popular.

 

Unpack the First Reading

Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19 

 

In this account of Jeremiah’s call to prophetic ministry, we get a stirring promise from God about the strength he will supply for Jeremiah. Jeremiah would need every ounce of strength that the Lord would provide to face both the private and official persecution that lay ahead of him. God says that he “knows” Jeremiah in a deep, familial way from his very beginning and promises that he will be “with” him and will “deliver” him; familiar words used in the covenant language of the Old Testament.

God knows that our lives may be quite difficult if we’re true to him, and he certainly knew that Jeremiah’s would be difficult for bearing the mantle of a prophet. As a consequence, God proclaims: I was with you from the beginning, I’m with you now, and I’ll be with you to the end. Today we know that in Jesus God has come to know us, dwell with us, and redeem us in the deepest possible way. All of us are anointed prophets to the truth of God’s message by virtue of our Baptism. We, no less than Jeremiah, need to know that he is with us.

 

Unpack the Second Reading

1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13

 

This week, St Paul gives us the final ingredient that makes the real unity of the Church possible. As it turns out the greatest gift isn’t miraculous power or the office of apostle, but love. Dostoevsky says in The Brothers Karamazov, “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing, when compared with love in dreams.” What a wonderful antidote to all of the sentimental connotations with which the word “love” has been used in our culture, and how much closer it comes to expressing the substance of the Love who waits for us above. St. Paul’s meditation on love in First Corinthians was born of his many trials in serving that harsh and dreadful Love whom we also call “Our Father.”

 

Unpack the Gospel Reading

Luke 4:21-30

 

In Nazareth’s rejection of Jesus, we see a serious challenge to Jesus’ credibility. Jesus takes this critique of credibility and turns it upside down by challenging the credibility of his hometown as a witness to a prophet. He demonstrates that it’s not a hometown that judges a prophet but the prophet who judges his hometown.

Jesus responds to Nazareth’s objections by referring to the story of Elijah and Elisha. There are more miracles and mighty events in the time of these two prophets than at any other time in the history of Israel except that of Moses. Yet the two prophets spend most of their time and prophetic power rebuking their own people for their idolatry and lack of faith. By highlighting these aspects of the story of Elijah and Elisha, Jesus is pointing to the fact that prophets are usually not accepted by their own people. In light of Israel’s history in the time of its greatest prophets, Nazareth’s rejection of Jesus seems to give more credibility, not less, to Jesus’ prophetic claims. Luke may be suggesting that in John and Jesus, Israel should see the Elijah and Elisha combination in a new and more powerful form.

 

Lectio Divina

(The practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer intended to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God's Word.)

 

In this week’s Gospel reading, Jesus shows that he has come to love not just his own Jewish brethren, but even the enemies of Israel. This week’s second reading from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians embodies what Jesus in the Gospel is challenging his followers to do. Take a few minutes to read these words from St. Paul—and every time you see the word “love” or “it,” exchange it with your own name. Take a few moments to think about what you read. Do St. Paul’s descriptions sound like you?

 

Discussion

 

Please watch this week’s short Opening the Word Discussion video found on the “Community” tab on FORMED.org.  Then, ponder the questions below with a friend, within your small group or post your responses in the Opening the Word Discussion group on FORMED.

One of the first places Jesus visits during the launch of his public ministry is his hometown of Nazareth. Why do you think Jesus decided to go there? And what might this tell us about how we are called to share our faith?

Who were considered the outsiders for the Jews in Jesus’ day? Who are the outsiders for us? What sorts of groups or people are we or our parish communities hesitant to extend mercy and welcome to?

As Jesus’ experience shows us, it’s sometimes hardest to share the Gospel with the people with whom we grew up: our own families and friends. Have you ever experienced this?

Why is it sometimes harder to share our faith with our parents, kids, spouses, siblings, and so forth, than it is to share it with those who are less close to us?

 

 

Reflections reprinted here with permission from Augustine Institute.

 

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