Scripture notes – 4th Sunday, Ordinary Time, C – 3rd February 2019

Pope Francis last week spoke of how people resist seeing that God meets us right now, in our here and now, no matter what we may be doing, because our everyday life seems ‘too ordinary’. Also it challenges us to be concerned with those around us. We will see an instance of this kind of rejection in the Gospel today.

The readings are available online here.

Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19
This reading from the beginning of the book of Jeremiah relates to the Gospel in subtle ways. Jesus does not mention Jeremiah when he quotes ‘A prophet is not without honour except in his own country…’ but Jeremiah was one whose message was contested and he was persecuted by his own countrymen. One important aspect of the role of the prophet among the Hebrews was the conviction they have of not relying on their own messages, but of being chosen by God who gives them the words they are to speak to the people. Often in history the prophets’ warnings were not well received nor acted upon

We have some stories of the call of other classic prophets, and this one is related in vivid terms. Jeremiah hears God’s voice telling him he was selected even before he was born. In the verses omitted in our reading, the prophet objects that he was very young for this task: ‘I’m only a boy.’ God tells him that this does not matter, he is ‘to say what I tell you to say.’

One point which relates to the Gospel selection is that Jeremiah is ‘appointed as a prophet to the nations’. The word translated ‘nations’ is also ‘Gentiles’, meaning those beyond the borders of Israel. That is what Jesus says about his own message in Luke.

Psalm 70/71:1-6, 15, 17
These verses from the psalm relate both to Jesus’ escape in the gospel, but also to Jeremiah’s call, in the confidence that the speaker has been in God’s care from before birth. We can take from this the consolation that God has cared for us in the same way, a sense that we are ‘called’ to belong to God, even if not having a vocation as a prophet. God has a place for everyone, as Paul also stresses in his Letter to the Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 12:31, 13:13
The commentator Richard Kugelman, CP, speaks for many in saying, ‘This is one of the most sublime passages of the entire Bible.’ It is well known even outside Christian circles. In the midst of this long letter, St Paul eloquently, even poetically, speaks from his heart about what is the core of living in Christ: love. We see at the beginning and the end, his concern for the community at Corinth with the problems and divisions that arose over spiritual ‘gifts’, about which we heard in previous weeks. He tries to move them away from desiring spectacular displays in their meetings to what should be the rock-bottom desire of their lives. By putting his words about love into the first person, he indicates that this is his own utter conviction, but it is one he wants all to share.

In the beauty of the familiar words, one can lose the challenge of what Paul is stressing. My commentary by W. Ford and J. A. Walther, takes 5 pages to spell out what Paul means by love, indicating how far-ranging the actions of love are, and also how to live love in every day practice. What this love is like, what love means, is something for everyone to meditate over in order to respond as whole-heartedly as God wants us to do.

I would also say that Love is at the centre not only of Paul’s teaching but of the entire biblical message. Over and over we read that God’s ‘steadfast and enduring love’ is poured out on us, and about how we are to respond with love for God and for all those God loves.

Luke 4:21-30
This selection follows directly on from last week’s gospel reading. It is a little hard to follow, as it seems one of a few places in Luke where his intent to give an ‘orderly’ account has not gone smoothly. The first reception of Jesus’ words is favourable but immediately is followed by a rejection so strong that they try to drive him out of the town. Various ways to explain such a sudden change have been made. Some commentators note that Luke has combined two visits to Nazareth and accept that this makes for confusion. The first section we heard last week, is only in Luke, when Jesus quote Isaiah’s ‘mission statement’. The part today telling of the rejection by his neighbours in his home town Mark and Matthew also have.

Most agree Luke in his first presentation of Jesus’ ministry wants to show themes that are basic to his whole Gospel. There is in all four Gospels the contrast between those accepted Jesus and his teachings, and those who rejected him, even to the point of putting him to death, and Luke shows it happening from the beginning. Another theme, dear to Luke, is that Jesus has come not only to his own Jewish people but also to the Gentiles.

Luke shares with the other Evangelists, the well-known quotation of a prophet not honoured by his own people. He also anticipates a later reaction explained in Mark and Matthew: after Jesus has healed people in Capernaum, the people of Nazareth are angry that he does not work miracles in front of them. But only in Luke is the comparison with two of the earliest prophets going beyond the borders of Israel. (These stories of Elijah and Elisha are found in 1 Kings 17-18, and 2 Kings 5, respectively.) The two were sent to non-Israelites, and when Jesus was rejected by many of the Jews he found acceptance among the Gentiles, such as those Luke probably had in mind when writing his Gospel.

The words in the liturgy ‘I tell you solemnly’ are literally ‘Amen, I say to you…’ and when that word is used in the Greek text, it seems an authentic memory of the actual speech of Jesus. ‘Amen, I say’ is found in all four gospels and only spoken by Jesus about himself. Therefore, I always prefer it to be used in English as well, instead of roundabout and clumsy substitutes. With the root meaning of ‘established’, amen stresses the trust the listeners should have in what Jesus has to say.

Joan Griffith