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February 1, 2004

A Prophet Is Not Welcome


(Luke 4:21-30; 1 Cor. 13:4-13)

The good news today is that God loves us, each one of us, and God calls us to love one another. St. Paul reminds us in this famous reading that love is patient, love is kind, love rejoices in the truth, love never fails. We’re called to be people of great love, to practice universal love, to treat every human being as our beloved brother and sister with an all inclusive, forgiving, compassionate love. Jesus embodied this universal love and though he showed perfect love, everyone rejected him and tried to kill him. No one was loving to him as we hear in part two of our Gospel today.

Last week we left off with Jesus returning to his hometown synagogue, where he opened the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, read the great mission statement to bring good news to the poor and justice and liberation and then said this scripture was now fulfilled and today we hear how the crowd responded. At first, they are mesmerized, but then they start saying, “Hey, who does this guy think he is? Isn’t he just the carpenter’s son? What right does he have to make such announcements?” And with that, they turn on him and try to kill him. So we should ask, what happened and what can we learn from this story?

Apparently, Jesus denounced their lack of faith, their idolatry, their injustice and their support of imperial violence, and concluded that no prophet is ever accepted in his home community. Specifically, he said no prophet was ever sent to them because they were so unfaithful, and worse, that the holy prophets were sent to heal and serve their enemies, and he gives two concrete examples.

First, he talks about the prophet Elijah. Elijah was considered the greatest prophet and he lived in the first half of the ninth century B.C. and his story is told in the first book of Kings. He lived in caves in the desert and announced that the Hebrews had rejected God and turned to idolatry, and this was why they were suffering a drought and famine. Jesus said that during that terrible famine, God did not send Elijah to help any of the widows of Israel, like the people of Nazareth, but instead, God sent Elijah to the widow in Zarephath in Sidon--to the hated enemy. (See 1 Kings 17:1-9). Jesus was saying, Elijah rejected all of you and went to your enemies, and this was God’s judgment on you.

Then Jesus talked about the prophet Elisha. Elisha was also one of the great prophets who lived during the time of Elijah, and succeeded Elijah after his death. He lived in the cities from about 850 to 800 B.C. and denounced injustice and his story is told in the second book of Kings. Jesus said God did not send Elisha to heal any of the lepers in Israel, but instead, God sent Elisha to heal the leper Naaman, a Syrian, also one of their enemies. (See 2 Kings 5:1-14) So Jesus is saying, Elisha too rejected them because of their infidelity, injustice and idolatry, and went to the enemy instead.

Well, how would we expect the people of Nazareth to respond to Jesus? They should have been ashamed and repent and say, “Yes, Jesus, you are right. Help us to return to God and be holy and faithful and just.” Instead, they are totally insulted, and shout, “How dare you criticize us! Who do you think you are?” So they attack him and try to throw him off the cliff.

It would be as if he said to us today, “You Americans think you are so holy, that God is always blessing you, that you are such faithful people, that God is on your side--but God is not visiting you! God is helping some poor widow in Baghdad whose families were killed from by bombs, or some poor child in Afghanistan who lost her family from your bombs, or some poor Palestinian family whose house was bulldozed because of your military aid to Israel and its occupation.” How would we respond to that?

Why did Jesus talk like this? I think he was trying to wake them up, to shock them into awareness. How would we feel? We’d probably be insulted too, but the challenge today is not to reject Jesus, not to kick him out like they did, not to try to kill him or anyone, but to have the humility to accept his judgment, to repent and follow him, to say “Jesus, you’re right. Help us to turn back to God, to repent, to reach out in love to everyone, including our enemies.” We need Jesus to tell us the truth, to call us to justice and liberation, to summon us to his way of loving nonviolence. We need Jesus to shake us up, to wake us up, and if we dare let him do that, and if we dare do what he says, not only will all our personal and global problems be resolved but we will become like him, people of unconditional, nonviolent, compassionate, universal love.

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