FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (February 3, 2019)
Magicians are wonderful entertainers. Much of the “magic” that they do has to do with toying with our expectations.
Expectations are also an important part of religion. We have expectations of god, but we have to learn how to deal with our expectations being too high or too low. Today’s Gospel reading addresses faulty expectations.
Jesus was well received in his first talk with his fellow townspeople in Nazareth. He read the 61st chapter of the prophet Isaiah telling of the wonderful things that would happen for the afflicted when the messiah would arrive.
Then, Jesus told them that God’s loving care was not the Jews’ exclusive right. Their expectations of our loving God were flawed. He gave them two examples to prove his point:
When the killer-famine came in the days of Elijah, God fed a poor widow from Sidon, a non-Jew in a foreign land;
When leprosy was rampant in the days of Elisha, God did not heal a Jew, but a Syrian army officer named Naaman.
Jesus was telling the hometown crowd what they needed to hear. They were worshiping a god they made too small. They claimed to worship the god of the universe but had reduced him to a tribal deity.
His hearers did two things. First, they did what we often do when we hear something that we do not want to hear. We react. “Isn’t this Joseph’s kid?” We know him; who does he think he is? Jesus saw their reaction and answered with an adage from Israel’s history that is still applicable today: “A prophet is not known in his own country.”
Second, they came close to doing what their ancestors had done to many a prophet. If they didn’t like the message, they killed the messenger. They pushed Jesus out of the synagogue, to the edge of a cliff. The account says he passed through the crowd; we do not know how. Was it that their hot blood cooled when they realized they were actually about to kill a longtime neighbor? Did they see Mary and remember what a kind person she was? Your guess is as good as mine.
God’s prophetic, corrective word may come to us in different forms:
A Scripture verse or a homily that impacts us as if we are hearing it for the first time;
A recuperation time gives us pause, and time to ask where we are going with our life, as in the case of Ignatius of Loyola;
And, it can happen that someone confronts us as Jesus confronted his hearers - as in the intervention of a family for an addicted member.
If we are tempted to sit in judgment on the people of Nazareth, we forget that we are probably more like them than different. When we hear criticism, an expressed expectation, it may have merit. Let’s not react with a knee-jerk reaction. Prophets are the antidotes to the defense mechanism, denial. We tend to be blind in our own concerns. We can see a speck in another’s eye and miss a plank in our own eye.
Let us be wise enough to listen gently to a prophetic voice and, like Jesus, to speak courageously and gently in a prophetic manner, when, as leaders, we need to remind another of God’s expectation.