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Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Homily for 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C by Fr. Munachi Ezeogu, CSSp

Jer. 1:4-5, 17, 18-19  1 Cor. 12:31-13:13  Luke 4:21-30

- on the Gospel - Prophecy or Popularity

One of the first indigenous bishops in Nigeria returned to his native town for a reception soon after he was made bishop. His townspeople, most of whom had only a faint idea of what the Christian faith or the office of bishop stands for, came together to give him a big reception. In the welcome speech, the people expressed how happy they were that one of their own sons had risen to the exalted position of those who had direct access to God. They promised him they would all embrace Christianity if he, as bishop, would use the power of his office to suppress one of the Ten Commandments for them. Before they could say which of the Commandments they had in mind, the young bishop shocked them by telling them that the Ten Commandments are of divine and not human making, and so are unchangeable. The celebratory mood turned into disappointment and the bishop had to make a hasty departure from his own people. Jesus, in today's gospel, went through a very similar experience.

Like the bishop, Jesus was coming home soon after his baptism where the Holy Spirit descended on him and he was publicly declared to be the Son of God. Like the bishop, Jesus’ townspeople received him at first with amazement and praise: “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’” (Luke 4:22). Like the bishop, Jesus was expected to use his powers and do some special favour for his own people. After all, they were his own people. And again like the bishop, when Jesus told them the truth that God has no favourites but relates to all humankind by the same standards, they turned against him in disappointment and ran him out of town.

Jesus anticipated the people's disappointment with him because he understood himself to be engaged in the prophetic ministry. In biblical terms, a prophet is not simply someone who foretells the future. A prophet, essentially, is someone who speaks for God, God’s own spokesperson. The prophet’s signature tune is, “Thus says the Lord....” The prophet focuses primarily on clearly expressing the word of God. Whether this word is happily received by the people or not is not the prophet’s primary concern. Prophets tell the bitter truth and this is what gets them into trouble. What is the truth that Jesus is telling his townspeople in today's gospel that gets him into trouble?

Jesus is telling his townspeople of Nazareth the truth of the universality of God's grace. The people of Nazareth, like most of the “chosen” people of God in Jesus' time, had come to believe in a God made in their own image and likeness. They believed in an either-or God -- “if God is for us, then he must be against them.” They believed in a God whose beneficence was limited to the “chosen” people. Jesus tells them that such a God does not exist. The true God is equally available to all humanity -- so long as they approach God with faith and trust. To illustrate his points Jesus cites the cases of the prophets Elijah and Elisha who performed great miracles for people who were outside the confines of the “chosen” people. The people were in error and Jesus tried to give them the truth:

The truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was  sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian (Luke 4:25-27).

The people could not accept the truth because it went against their long-established beliefs in their own superiority, which made them feel good about themselves.

The people of God have always had two kinds of teachers. There are the prophetic teachers who seek above all to please God; who speak the truth of God even when this would cost them their popularity and the people's patronage. And then there are the popularist teachers who seek above all to please the people, to tell them what they would love to hear and confirm them in their prejudices. Scripture warns us that "the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires" (2 Timothy 4:3).

The greatest of all virtues is universal and unconditional love (2nd reading). And the beginning of this agape love is the recognition that there is only one chosen people of God, only one chosen race: the human race.

- On the Epistle - Homework on Love

 The passage we have today in the 2nd reading, 1 Corinthians 13, is one of the best texts on love that you can find in the Bible. If you want to know what true love is, read that chapter over and over again. Many times in church we speak about the importance of love. In fact, we cannot speak too much about love because in the Christian life, love seems to be everything. Even God, we are told, is love. Today, however, I would not like us to listen to another speech on love. I would rather like to propose to you some practical exercises on love.
A Checklist on Love
How much of a loving person are you? An exercise based on this reading helps us to find that out easily. The text, taken from the New International Bible, version reads:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Now let us read the passage again putting “JESUS” and “HE” wherever we find “LOVE” and “IT.” You can see that it read smoothly. You can still agree with every line of the passage. Next read the passage again, this time substituting your name, “NN”, and the pronoun “I”. Do you still agree with every line in the passage? How do you score yourself on a scale of 1 to 10? That shows how loving a person you are.

A Homework on Love

(Adapted From A Second Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, 46-48.)

An adult education teacher once gave his class an assignment to go to someone they love before the following week's class and tell them that they loved them. They would then give their report at the next class. It had to be someone to whom they had never said those words before, or at least not for a very long time. At the next class, one man stood up and recounted his story to the class. "I was quite angry with you last week when you gave us this assignment. I felt like, who were you to tell us to do something so personal? But as I was driving home, my conscience started talking to me. It was telling me that I knew exactly who I needed to say “I love you” to.

Five years ago, my father and I had a terrible argument which we have never resolved. We have avoided seeing each other unless it was absolutely necessary and even then we hardly spoke to each other. So last week by the time I had gotten home after class, I had convinced myself to tell my father that I loved him. It’s strange, but just making the decision seemed to lift a heavy load off my chest. When I told my wife, she jumped out of bed, gave me a big hug and for the first time in our married life saw me cry. We sat up half of the night talking and drinking coffee.

The next day I was up bright and early as if I had slept soundly all night. I got to the office and accomplished more in a couple of hours than I had the whole day before. At 9AM, I called my father to tell him I wanted to come over after work and talk to him. He reluctantly agreed. By 5:30, I was at the house. When my father answered the door, I didn't waste any time. I took one step inside and blurted out “Dad, I just came over to tell you that I love you.” Well, it was as if a transformation had come over him. Before my eyes, his face softened, the wrinkles seemed to disappear and he too began to cry. He reached out and hugged me, saying “I love you too, son, but I’ve never been able to say it.” My mother walked by just then with tears in her eyes. I didn't stay long, but I had’'t felt that great in a long time.

Two days after my visit, my dad, who had heart problems but hadn’t told us, had an attack and ended up unconscious in the hospital. I still don’t know if he’ll make it. So my message to all of you in this class is: don’t wait to do the things you know need to be done. If I had waited, I may never have another chance to do what I did."

And so my friends, your homework for this week is, go home and tell someone you love them before next Sunday. And it has to be someone you really love, but to whom you have never said those words before, or at least not for a very long time now. One day it will be your turn to tell us your own wonderful story of love.

Also find my reflection for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time of the Year C here 

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