Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 4C
I’ve never had much interest in politics, although in junior high and high school, I was successfully elected as class treasurer each year, but I don’t think we had much of a campaign, and there was probably only one year where there was even another person running for the same position. It’s not too hard to win an election when yours is the only name on the ballot. So I’m no expert in campaign strategy, but this speech given by Jesus in today’s Gospel doesn’t seem to win him much favor among his constituents. This is the first speech Jesus gives back in his own hometown of Nazareth after beginning his public ministry. At first his listeners are very impressed, but then they begin to have their doubts as they remember watching Jesus grow up as the son of an ordinary carpenter. The rest of his speech pushes them over the edge and provokes them to react rather violently and try to kill him by throwing him off of a cliff. But Jesus escapes from their grasp and walks away.
What was it in the speech that caused such a violent reaction? When Jesus mentions the widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon, and Naaman, the leper from Syria? Just imagine if one of our presidential candidates went on TV or YouTube saying that under his policies, foreigners would receive the largest benefit, or that foreigners would be the only ones to benefit. That’s basically what Jesus is telling the people in his hometown. Even though the Messiah came to save the Jewish nation, his benefits would largely pass on to the Gentiles, the foreigners, because many of the Jews would fail to recognize the time of their visitation. His listeners failed to acknowledge that the Christ and the Jewish nation were always meant to be a light and a source of blessing and salvation for all the nations of the world.
This is the hard truth that Jesus was trying to communicate, that as the Messiah, he wasn’t just going to make the Jewish nation great again by kicking out the Romans. Jesus wasn’t very interested in politics. He would say later on, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” Instead, Jesus wants to reign forever in human hearts, to conquer sin, death, and fear, not just for the Jews but for all humanity. The crowds react violently because they don’t understand. They can’t understand or refuse to understand because they are blinded by their own selfishness, greed, indifference, and the lies that they have bought into.
When we hear the truth, even challenging truths, are we able to recognize and accept it? Or even when we still disagree, are we able to understand both sides of the issue and respect those with whom we disagree, or are we tempted instead to react violently as in today’s Gospel? Nowadays, there is a lot of debate over issues, but I would venture to say there isn’t very much intelligent discussion or dialogue. Genuine dialogue can only occur where there is mutual respect and a sincere search for the truth. Too often we choose sides without really understanding those with whom we disagree. And anger and frustration bordering on violence and defamation too often characterize our debates.
Now, more than ever, I’ve come to appreciate those who disagreed with me as I was growing up. Those who challenged me in my Catholic faith during junior high and high school, especially around the issues of praying for the dead and the role of Mary and the saints, but also the issue of abortion and the role of government and human rights, all these challenges to my own beliefs helped me to not only learn and appreciate what the Catholic Church teaches but also why, the reasons behind the truths that she proclaims. The term used for this is Catholic apologetics, an exploration of the reasons behind the teachings of the Church. As the challenges to my faith spurred me on to read the Catechism and Catholic apologetics, I began to actually understand my Catholic faith, and I don’t know whether I would be a priest today if my beliefs hadn’t been challenged like they were.
A faith unchallenged is a faith unlived. The early Christians had a strong sense of their Christian identity because of the persecution they received for the Name of Christ. There are still plenty of challenges to the truth that the Church continues to proclaim as a prophetic voice in the world today. Have we bought into some of the lies that the world presents to us, perhaps surrounding gender issues, homosexuality, personal choice, or attempting to redefine oneself rather than receiving the gift of who we really are from the God who made us? Do we see the Church’s consistent teachings as bigoted or behind the times, rather than a reflection of the unchanging, but challenging truth that Christ revealed for our authentic happiness and fulfillment?
I challenge each one of us today to really strive to understand the reasons for what the Church teaches, and also to appreciate the genuine values of those who disagree and challenge the Church’s teachings, so that we can continue to grow in genuine love and understanding of all people, even of those who disagree with us or who have a lifestyle that is not yet in conformity with the truth. Jesus came to call sinners, and we all fall short in many ways. We should be a welcoming community, known for our love, for our hospitality and mercy, but we should not shy away from continuing to proclaim the often counter-cultural truth of Jesus Christ to all the world. We must be convinced that the truth, even when it is difficult, and even when it is met with persecution or violence, the truth of Jesus Christ really does set us free, and this truth is found and preserved in its fullness in the teachings of the Catholic Church. May the Holy Spirit guide us into all truth and strengthen us to proclaim the truth in love by what we say and do, most of all by our patience, understanding, and mercy.