4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

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ROME REPORTS (2:54) About 340 Million Christians are persecuted worldwide

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The Prophetic Call and the Fear of Rejection

The conventional wisdom is that every homily should begin with a story to capture the congregation’s attention and to introduce the theme. Here is one example. Visit Fr. Tony’s website for a whole lot more. 

Fr. Tony’s Eight Minute Homilies

Moses tried to convince God that he didn’t speak well enough, and Jeremiah complained to God that he was too young. The prophets trembled at the trials ahead of them – and with good reason. Israel had a long history of rejecting prophets (2 Chr 36:16; Jer 2:30; Amos 2:12; Matt 23:37; Luke 13:34; I Thes 2:15; Heb 11:32ff.). Jeremiah was threatened with death several times, thrown into an empty, muddy cistern, imprisoned, dragged off to exile in Egypt, and, perhaps, most painful of all, was forced to watch the destruction of Jerusalem because its inhabitants would not listen to his message.  At least twice in his lifetime, the prophet Elijah spoke the truth of God to King Ahab of Israel concerning the King’s promotion of idolatry. As a result, Elijah was forced to flee into the wilderness where he suffered great privation (I Kgs 16:29–17:3 and I Kgs 18:16–19:4).

Today’s Gospel story is another example of why the prophets did not jump for joy at their career prospects. In the space of five verses, we see the people of Nazareth turn from amazement to such fury at Jesus’ words that they seized him and dragged him off to the cliff to murder him. Speaking God’s truth by word or by deed is a risky business even today. Hundreds of missionaries have been martyred since 1990. Thousands of Christians have been killed this past year in Moslem countries and Communist countries. Christians are subjected to the white martyrdom of mental torture in advanced countries, including the U.S., by the agnostic and atheistic media, and liberal politicians and judges, as forms of the media constantly ridicule and insult Christians with unprecedented vengeance.

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Facing rejection, Martin Luther King style:  April 16, 1963, almost fifty-nine years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. offended a lot of people by writing a letter from the Birmingham jail to Church people, to the pastors. He said, “Now is the time. God wills that all His children be free. God wills that all His children be given an equal chance in this life.” He challenged the Church to believe that what the Scripture says, applies to “now” — not to sometime later, not to when everything is ready, but now; not some other time, but right now. Martin Luther King, Jr. said a generation ago, “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Throw us in jail, and we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half-dead, and we will still love you. But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory. For love is the most durable power in the world.”

Liberation for Dalits through Jesus: High castes represent a small minority in India, some 10-15% of the population, yet they dominated Indian society in much the same way whites ruled South Africa during the official period of Apartheid. For centuries, Indian society lived under a rigid caste system imposed by the high caste Hindus in which each person was born into a set social group. People who were born into the highest social group, or caste, used to receive the benefits of honor respect and privileges. Then, there are different levels, or castes, below this. A person’s caste at birth determined what job he could have, whom he could marry, and what rights he had in his society. On the very lowest rungs of society were the Dalits, whose name actually means “broken, crushed.” The Dalits were the targets of violence and discrimination in Indian society for long time. Fortunately, formal discrimination no longer exists under the new law. But now, the Dalits face persecution for another reason: their Faith. Nearly 70% of Indian Christians are Dalits. The reserved 22.5 percent of all government and semi-government jobs, including seats in Parliament and state legislatures, is available only to Dalits who follow Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism, but Dalit Christians and Muslims are not protected as castes under Indian Reservation policy. The legal reason is that there is caste system in Christianity and Islam. The Christian Faith was quite attractive to the Dalits. They chose to follow Christ even when they knew the consequences, they might face including the denial of free education and job reservation given to Hindu Dalits. Why would the Hindu Dalits, who were targets of discrimination and abuse, invite more such treatment by becoming Christians? Because in Christ, they meet a God of liberation Who loves and lifts up those whom others would tear down. His heart is with those who suffer. He cares about those who are hurting, who are helpless, who are broken-hearted, who are in bondage. They consider Jesus as their Divine liberator, and God of justice. [Timothy Merrill, “Giving Flesh to the Word,” Homiletics, (July-August 1999).]

Preaching liberation with courage: When the late Anglican  Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu (d. December 26. 2021), was visiting the United States and lecturing in those days just before the fall of Apartheid, he said, “God is at work in this world, breaking down the barriers that separate people from one another.” Then, interpreting Scripture, he said, “God was not only freeing the slaves in Moses’ time, but Moses’ story is there to reveal to us that God is always freeing slaves, always freeing those who are in bondage.” So, he said, again in the  words of Scripture, found in the Book of  Deuteronomy, “Choose ye this day whom you will serve.” Choose on whose side you are going to stand. “Today this Scripture is being fulfilled in your hearing.”


Central Theme of the Readings

The central theme of today’s readings is that we should have, and show in our communities, the courage of our Christian convictions in our Faith and in its practice, even when we face hatred and rejection because of them.


Scripture Readings Summarized

First Reading

The first reading tells us how God called Jeremiah as His prophet and equipped him to face opposition and rejection. In living out his prophetic vocation while encountering rejection and persecution, Jeremiah prefigured Jesus, the greatest of all prophets.

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Additional insights on the Gospel from Fr. Tony

Today’s first reading prepares us to hear the Gospel, Luke 4:21-30, where Jesus, early in his mission, faces stiff opposition and compares himself to the prophets who had come before him. In both the first reading and the Gospel, we are shown, in Jeremiah and Jesus, God’s prophets (prophetes in Greek means mouthpiece), chosen, consecrated, and sent to their brothers and sisters as emissaries of the Word of God The prophet Jeremiah (600-550 BC) never held back in describing the persecution he suffered. Here in the first sentences of his book, Jeremiah describes how God called him, bolstered up his Faith and courage, and predicted the opposition he would endure. Speaking to Jeremiah, God makes four assertions: “I formed you” (as a potter forms clay), “I knew you” (referring to the intimate relationship between God and Jeremiah), “I dedicated you” (consecrating Jeremiah to do God’s work), and “I appointed you” (to a mission as His prophet to Israel). At the start of Jeremiah’s ministry, Yahweh warns the young prophet not to be intimidated by those to whom he prophesies (Jer 1:4-5, 17-19). “They will fight against you,” Yahweh warns, “but will not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you.” During his lifetime, Jeremiah was considered a total failure, but in later times he has been recognized as one of Israel’s greatest prophets. Jeremiah is a wonderful example of “the triumph of failure.”


Responsorial Psalm

The Responsorial Psalm, Ps 71, offers us a prayer in time of persecution and a declaration of our trust in God with its foundation in Him.


Second Reading

In the second reading, we hear Paul speaking with the courage of his Christian convictions in correcting the Corinthian Christian community where the exercise of God’s gifts was causing competition, jealousy, and divisiveness. He courageously presents to them a “way” which surpasses all others, namely, the way of love, and instructs them to exercise their gifts with love.

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Additional insights on the Gospel from Fr. Tony

There were diverse manifestations of the gifts of the Holy Spirit among the Christians living in the Greek seaport of Corinth. Paul spends chapters 12, 13 and 14 of this letter trying to get the Corinthians to enjoy and express their gifts in ways that give strength to the community and glory to God. Paul is addressing a community on the verge of self-destruction because of the Corinthians’ inability to recognize that Jesus is present in each member of the community. So, he advises them to use their spiritual gifts for the unification of the Church, by humble submission to lawful authorities, by bidding farewell to rivalries, and by the re-direction of their efforts toward mutual service. Paul also warns them that, if exercised without love, even the gifts of tongues, knowledge, Faith, prophecy, and generosity are useless. So, he instructs them to recognize Christ in one another and to treat each other accordingly. The only way for them, and for us, to treat others is with love. Paul concludes the chapter by affirming that even the greatest of virtues, Faith and Hope, cannot exist without Love, the driving force of all life in time, and in eternity, “the greatest of these is love.”


Gospel

Today’s Gospel is a continuation of last Sunday’s Gospel presenting his own people’s negative reaction to Jesus’ “Inaugural Address” at the synagogue of Nazareth when Jesus applied to himself the words of Isaiah 61, announcing a new time of jubilee, liberation, and healing in God’s name. The passageshows us how Jesus faced skepticism and criticism with prophetic courage. Jeremiah, Paul, and Jesus believed that they were commissioned by God to proclaim a disturbing prophetic message (Jer 1:4-5, 17-19). No matter how strong the opposition, the three had the conviction that God was with them.

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Additional insights on the Gospel from Fr. Tony

Amazement turning to hatred:

The first reaction of the people in the Nazareth synagogue to Jesus’ words was one of astonishment. They were amazed that one of their fellow-villagers could speak with such grace and eloquence and with such authority. Luke says they were “amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips,” because they knew Jesus only as a carpenter from a poor family, with no formal training in Mosaic Law. But their amazement turned into displeasure when, during his “Inaugural Address” or “Mission Statement,” Jesus took upon himself the identity of a prophet, different from the image of the miracle-worker that people wished to see. Jesus came to his hometown people as a prophet with healing in his hands, mercy in his heart, and salvation for all in his words. Like the other prophets of the past, Jesus directly called upon people to relinquish their selfishness, their faithlessness, their lack of justice and mercy (Mic 6:6-8), and their sinfulness.

Hence, their displeasure turned into anger when Jesus claimed that he was the promised Messiah of Isaiah’s prophecy. They challenged his Messianic claim, asking, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” They could not understand how a mere carpenter could be the Messiah who would liberate them from Roman rule and reestablish the Davidic kingdom.

The phrase, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ means “Do not be like a bad physician, who professes medical knowledge to his patients but does not know how to treat himself.”(As several commentators point out, the challenge of “Physician, heal yourself!” in Nazareth is probably meant to be paralleled with “If you are the ‘King of the Jews,’ then save yourself,” the taunt at the end of the Gospel, as Jesus hangs on the cross dying. In a sense “Physician, heal yourself” is paralleled with “Saviour, save yourself” Dr. Watson.)Jesus explained their attitude by saying “No prophet is accepted in his native place.” Jesus clearly establishes himself as a figure in the prophetic line, a theme that Luke will highlight repeatedly, in order to show that Jesus is in continuity with (and not a break from), the earlier tradition of Judaism.

Jesus’ reaction to His people’s skepticism:

In response to his townsmen’s skepticism, Jesus referred to the Biblical stories of how God blessed two Gentiles, while rejecting the many Jews in similar situations. The reason for this was that these Gentiles were more open to the prophets than the Jewish people who were wicked and unrepentant. First, Jesus reminded them of the Gentile widow of Zarephath, a village on the coast of present-day Lebanon, near Sidon (1 Kings 17:7-24). The Prophet Elijah stayed with her and her son during last year of the three-and-a-half-year drought that preceded Elijah’s part in the Lord God’s victory over the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Because of her kindness to the prophet, and the Faith her willingness to take him in as God’s messenger demonstrated, the widow’s small jar of flour and tiny jug of oil were never depleted. Later, when the widow’s son died, Elijah’s prayers revived him from the dead. No Israelite received such a blessing.

Naaman’s healing presented as reward of Faith: 

Then Jesus recalled for his listeners of the story of Naaman, the Syrian Military General (II Kgs 7:3-10). Naaman had contracted leprosy. But when he heard that the Prophet Elisha had the power to heal, he appealed to the prophet for help. At Elisha’s word, Naaman bathed seven times in the Jordan, after which his leprosy was healed, and his skin was restored, becoming like that of a child. There were many lepers in Israel at the time, commented Jesus, but only this foreigner was healed because he had Faith in the man of God.

Today, that same healing, mercy, and salvation should be available to all through the Church. “In the minds of his Jewish listeners, it was offense enough to be reminded that Elijah ministered to a poor Gentile widow, but it was intolerable to be oppressed by Roman occupation, and then be reminded that Elisha healed a soldier of Syria, a country which had oppressed Israel in an earlier time.” (Craig A. Evans, The Lectionary Commentary, Vol. 3: The Third Readings, p. 326).


Total rejection and attempted murder:

Jesus’ words also implied that, like the Israelites of those former days, the people of his hometown, were unable to receive miracles because of their disbelief. That was why in former times God had bestowed miracles on the Gentiles who believed in Him. Jesus, like the earlier prophets (Jer 37:12–38:6; Mal 1:2, 6, 7, 13; Mic 3:5-8), dared to speak the Truth to people who did not want to hear it. By using Scriptural precedents, Jesus stresses that, if he does not receive a welcome in, or support from, his own community, he will certainly be well within his rights to extend his ministry beyond the bounds of the Jewish nation, and to reach out to the Gentiles, just as the great prophets of old did. Dr. Brant Pitre paraphrases it, “You, people of Nazareth, are like the wicked Israelites at the time of Eli’jah and Eli’sha. You are going to reject me as a prophet and the blessing and the Good News is going to come from me and it’s going to end up going to pagans. “ Jesus’ reference to the unbelief of the Jews and to the stronger Faith of the Gentiles infuriated his listeners.

Hence, without a trial or even a hearing, and in violation of both Jewish and Roman Law, his townspeople rushed to seize Jesus in order to throw him over the edge of the cliff on which their town was built. (This site cannot be located with any certainty. Tradition, however, associates this account with the cliff called the “Mount of Precipitation/Mount of the Leap,” just under 2 miles outside Nazareth. Others suggest a hill in the ridge of local mountains called the Jebel Nazra, or “Nazareth Hill”). But Jesus miraculously escaped because “his hour had not yet come, ”and, as Jesus said later, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father” (Jn 10:17-18).This rejection of Jesus by his own townsfolk must have sincerely grieved him. Later John wrote, “To his own he came but his own did not accept him” (Jn 1:11). This rejection in Nazareth foreshadowed or anticipated the opposition and rejection that Jesus would experience in the coming years, culminating with his crucifixion.

Life messages

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1) Face rejection with prophetic courage and optimism

The story of Jesus’ rejection in his own hometown is a story that we can identify with, because it is a story that has happened to most of us. Perhaps we have experienced the pain of rejection, betrayal, abandonment, violated trust, neglect, or abuse. What about rejection by those closest to us? Often our friends, families, or childhood companions fail to listen to us, refuse our advice, and reject the words of grace, love, and encouragement that we offer to them because they are unable to see us as God’s appointed instruments, the agents of God’s healing and saving grace. Perhaps we ourselves are guilty of such rejection. How often have we discounted people through prejudice? We must realize that God’s power is always available to transform even the most unlikely people and that His power may come to us through unlikely instruments.

2) Let us not, like the people in Jesus’ hometown, reject God in our lives

The story of Jesus’ rejection by his townsfolk is also a story about how we often ignore and reject God. Do we realize that we expel Jesus from our lives every time we choose to sin? How often have we taken him to the brink of our hearts, and given him that eternity-losing push? The Good News is that this Messiah always gives us one more chance. It is up to us to take it. Similarly, are we unwilling to be helped by God, or by others? Does our pride or lack of trust stop us from seeing or recognizing God’s purpose? Does either prevent us from recognizing God’s direction, help, and support in our lives through His words in the Bible and through the advice and examples of others? God calls us in many ways. Are we willing to listen to this calling and discover our role in carrying out God’s purpose?

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Additional insights on the Gospel from Fr. Tony

3) We must have the prophetic courage of our convictions. By our Baptism, God calls us to be prophets like Jesus, sharing his prophetic mission.

The task of a prophet is to speak, and to live out, God’s truth. We must never be afraid of this call, for it is Jesus who will supply us with the courage, the words, and the deeds we will need to oppose the many evils in our society. By legalizing abortion in 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed the killing of over forty-seven million unborn children in forty-nine years. The Roe versus Wade decision is currently permitting the brutal execution of 4400 unborn babies every day. Our television and movie conglomerates, which are supported by the money paid by millions of Americans and many large corporate sponsors, are spewing forth pornographic material that is poisoning our children and our society. Our society tells adults and youngsters that promiscuous sex, drugs, gambling, and alcohol are legitimate pleasures for modern, liberated people. Our country needs to hear God’s Truth from Spirit-filled Christians with the prophetic courage of their convictions. Heroes like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King consistently refused to retaliate violently while affirming the dignity of every person, including their enemies.

4) We need to follow Christ, not political correctness, and to speak the truth of Christ in love, without being hypocritical or disrespectful.

We must never remain silent in the face of evil for fear of being thought “politically incorrect.” Jesus was not against conflict if it promoted truth. He taught us to give respect and freedom without condoning or encouraging sinful behavior. That was the example given by Martin Luther King and his civil rights marchers singing, “We shall overcome,” as they were carted off to jail, were washed down with fire hoses and had savage Alsatian dogs loosed on them. Love does not tolerate destructive behavior, but it sometimes causes pain–just as a surgeon must sometimes hurt in order to heal. We need to be kind, charitable, honest, forgiving, and clear in speaking out our Christian convictions as Jesus was when He spoke in the synagogue. We live in a pluralistic society, but as the American Bishops say in their document Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics “Real pluralism depends on people of conviction struggling to advance their beliefs by every ethical and legal means at their disposal.”

End of homily

Jokes of the Week

At the end of Mass, some priests like to offer a joke to their parishioners. Please be sensitive though to particular circumstances or concerns. Some Jokes may not be suitable for particular times, placeS, OR CONGREGATIONS. 

CHOOSE ONE

# 1: Rejection at the Pearly Gate:A cab driver reaches the Pearly Gates and announces his presence to St. Peter, who looks him up in his Big Book. Upon reading the entry for the cabby, St. Peter invites him to grab a silk robe and a golden staff and to proceed into Heaven. A preacher is next in line behind the cabby and has been watching these proceedings with interest. He announces himself to St. Peter. Upon scanning the preacher’s entry in the Big Book, St. Peter furrows his brow and says, “Okay, we’ll let you in, but you will have only a cotton robe and wooden staff.” The preacher is astonished and replies, “But I am a man of the cloth. You gave that cab driver a gold staff and a silk robe. Surely, I rate higher than a cabby.” St. Peter responds matter-of-factly: “Here we are interested in results. When you preached, people slept. When the cabby drove his taxi, people prayed.”

# 2: Rejection resulting in the resignation of the pastor: There was a feud between the Pastor and the Choir Director of a Baptist church. It seems the first hint of trouble came when the Pastor preached on “Dedicating Oneself to Service” and the Choir Director chose to sing: “I Shall Not Be Moved.” Trying to believe it was a coincidence, the Pastor put the incident behind him. The next Sunday he preached on “giving”. Afterwards, the choir squirmed as the director led them in the hymn: “Jesus Paid It All.” By this time, the Pastor was losing his temper. Sunday morning attendance swelled as the tension between the two built. A large crowd showed up the next week to hear his sermon on the “sin of gossiping.” Would you believe the Choir Director selected, “I Love to Tell the Story.” There was no turning back. The following Sunday the Pastor told the congregation that unless something changed he was considering resignation. The entire church gasped when the Choir Director led them in: “Why Not Tonight?” Truthfully, no one was surprised when the Pastor resigned a week later, explaining that Jesus had led him there and Jesus was leading him away. The Choir Director could not resist singing, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

Fr. Tony started his homily ministry (Scriptural Homilies) in 2003 while he was the chaplain at Sacred Heart residence, applying his scientific methodology to the homily ministry. By word of mouth, it spread to hundreds of priests and Deacons, finally reaching Vatican Radio website (http://www.vaticannews.va/en/church.html). Fr. Tony’s homilies reach nearly 3000 priests and Deacons by direct email every week.

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