Luis A. Vera, O.S.A.
Church of St. Nicholas of Tolentine
Bronx, New York
Jer: 1: 4-5; 17-19
Psalm 71: 1=6; 15-17
1 Cor 12: 31 - 13: 14
Luke 4: 21-30
Twenty years ago when I was ordained a priest, I went back to my hometown to celebrate, as is the custom, a Mass of Thanksgiving. My family and friends were gathered at my parents’ house and I thought that it would be a good idea to celebrate the Eucharist there. I told my mother my idea and with a puzzled look she said to me, “But the priest is not here!” Knowing an answer to her statement, I said “I am a priest!” She looked at me for a moment trying to comprehend my statement and then, blowing air through her lips she said, “You are crazy!”
“…No prophet is accepted in his own native place.” In Church I was a minister, but at home, I was only a son!!
Jesus goes to his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. He read from the prophet Isaiah and claims for himself the messianic mission Isaiah describes. The Spirit of the Lord is upon Jesus. People “spoke highly of him and were amazed at his ‘gracious’ words that came out of his mouth.” They couldn’t believe that those “gracious” words would come out of the mouth of “the son of Joseph,” the carpenter. Where did he learn to speak this way? He knew people’s hearts: they would quote to him the proverb “Physician, cure yourself.” Once again, while hanging from the Cross, he will hear “if you are the king of the Jews, then save yourself.” “Physician, cure yourself” parallels “Savior, save yourself.”
People will also ask, “Do here in your native place the things that we have heard were done in Capernaum.” Very often we think we have the control of Jesus’ ministry, but Jesus reminds us that God is much bigger! He quotes from the Books of Kings: the story of the widow of Zeraphath from 1 Kings, and the story of Naaman the Syrian, from 2 Kings. People did not appreciate Jesus reminding them that Elijah ministered to the poor Gentile widow, but they couldn’t tolerate to be reminded that Elisha healed a soldier from Syria, a country that was seen as an oppressor. When they heard this, “they were all filled with fury.” They closed their ears to his message because his message was one of inclusion and they wanted to exclude… but don’t we also do the same!
We close our ears to what God has to say to us because we hear that message from unlikely sources! We may hear God’s message to us from the margins: the immigrant, the poor or the refugee. God might speak to us through those of a different faith, from women or gays, from the very old or the very young. We may politely hear what they say but, like Jesus’ hearers, we resist their message… somehow we feel their voices are less important… and we try to hurl them down the many hills we ourselves have created.
Like the people in Jesus’ hometown we think we are the only receivers of Jesus’ power and healing; we feel we are totally privileged over others but Jesus reminds us that God is much bigger. We are reminded that Jesus is God’s gift to ALL, not just to some! He wants us to recognize God’s all-inclusive love, God’s all-inclusive mercy. The challenge for us is to extend that same love and mercy and compassion to ALL people. To do this is to know fully… To continue with the mission of Jesus is to have faith, hope and love, but we always need to be reminded that “the greatest of them is love.” May we always be open to many prophets of our day! May we always have the courage to love as Jesus loves, to include and not to exclude, to bring healing instead of division… Until He comes again!