4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gospel of Luke 4:21-30
As many of you know, I grew up in a small town, a town of less than 5,000 people. Now, there are some advantages to growing up in a small town: 1) it can be very safe and predictable. People tend to leave their doors unlocked… which is most dangerous when Zucchini is in season. 2) You are never very far from help. If you accidentally left your purse at home, only to discover that fact while standing in the checkout line, chances are you will still get home with your groceries. 3) In a small town, people know you. They know your family, they know your people and, believe it or not, there is a great comfort in being known.
However, those same reasons can also be considered disadvantages to growing up in a small town. Sometimes safety and predictability can be taken advantage of resulting in pain and loss. In times of need, judgements about character are often rendered and reputations are tarnished when it is considered that one is “taking advantage” of Christian charity. Finally, and this can be the most frustrating thing about growing up in a small town… everybody knows everyone. Errors of judgement or mistakes result in labels that can last a lifetime. Like; “that’s the guy that holds the record for the most burps in French class”, or “Isn’t he the kid who couldn’t stop laughing in 4th grade and had to sit in the hall”, or “isn’t he the teenager who took the coroner’s car for a joy ride and drove all around town with the emergency lights on”.
If you can appreciate these examples, both the advantages and disadvantages of what it means to grow up in a small town, then you will be able to appreciate today’s Gospel reading.
Today’s Gospel is a continuation of last week’s Gospel as Jesus visited his hometown. His custom of entering the synagogue and teaching on the Sabbath resulted in people speaking “highly of him” and being “amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth”. Yet, in a very short amount of time this admiration and amazement quickly dissipated, resulting in anger, and rage, and attempted murder. The very people who knew Jesus as “the son Joseph”, turned on him and, in their fury, they tried to throw him off a cliff.
This sudden turn of events, this immediate and severe shift from admiration and amazement to fury and homicide started with a simple question, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?”
In their minds they knew who Jesus was. They knew his family. They knew his history, and to them that was all of who he was. (Please allow me a bit of license here.) They remembered that time when Mary was coming home with the groceries from the market and her donkey came up lame, and the neighbors had helped her get home. They remembered that time when Jesus, as a little boy, made clay birds and they mysteriously came alive and flew away, though everybody was impressed, it was still a bit weird. They remembered Jesus, the 12-year-old, who got lost in Jerusalem and his parents had to spend 3 days looking for him only find out that he was in the temple talking to the teachers… “as if he knew everything.”
The people who crowded into that synagogue that sabbath day, believed that they knew Jesus, and because they knew him, they knew what they could expect from him. Even more tragically, because they knew what they could expect from him, they felt they were entitled.
They were not seeking Jesus the Messiah; they were expecting Jesus to grant favors and pay off debts. They had created a distorted Jesus. A Jesus based on their limited experience and complete lack of understanding. A Jesus who would remember their kindness and neighborly acts and would respond in turn. To them Jesus was obliged to do them a service. He wasn’t there to save them; he was there to repay them.
His response to this sense of entitlement; He reminded them of the great prophets Elijah and Elisha and how in times of great trouble and distress they brought healing and salvation to Gentiles, and not those who considered themselves to be worthy and deserving. In essence, they were furious because they wanted a prophet they could control, and not the Jesus calling them to repentance.
So… with this perspective in mind… let’s ask ourselves a few questions.
Who here is angry? Who here immediately had a name, or a face, or an event come to mind when I asked who was angry? Who here is now in an argument with themselves trying to convince themselves that they are not angry… they just misunderstood the question?
My brothers and sisters in Christ we are angry. Sure, we may not be throwing things, breaking things, getting kicked off planes, or having screaming fits in the grocery store… but we are angry. This pandemic has caused us to change the way we live, work, and play. We have lost loved ones, incomes, and freedoms. We have lost respect for each other and the things that made us different are now dividing us. Anger is the emotional by-product of loss, and we are angry.
Anger manifests itself in many ways. We hold grudges. We pull away from friends. We stop attending church, or, when we do attend church, we do so joylessly and with an attitude of obligation. We become bitter and spiteful and eventually, we just stop caring. Anger has seeped into our lives. It has affected our health, it has affected our relationships, and it has affected our church.
The next question we need to ask ourselves today… are we ready to stop being angry?
If we are then there are things we must do.
First, be here… in this church, in front of this altar, with your anger, sadness, brokenness, and need. Acknowledge it, don’t deny it, and bring it to Jesus and place it all at the foot of his cross.
Second, be forgiven… and be forgiving. Go to the confessional, then go to that individual whose face and name you just now recalled, reconcile with that person… immediately.
Thirdly, go serve. St. Benedict instructed his monks who were struggling with anger to serve others. Serving others will overcome anger, causing it to lose its grip upon our hearts, enabling us to live free from bitterness and resentment.
Finally, pray. Just like the people of Jesus’ hometown whose knowledge of Jesus was entirely historical, so it is oftentimes the same for us. We have memories of Jesus. We remember when we last encountered him, when we last felt his embrace, when we last heard his voice… but too often those moments exist in our past and not in our presence. Pray. Pray in your homes, pray at your work, pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament, pray always and in all ways pray.
Our challenge today… is to make today the day when encounter Jesus anew. Make today the day to re-introduce ourselves to our Savior, allowing ourselves to be reconverted in Christ. Make today the day we say, “Jesus I am angry, and I wish to be no longer.”