31 August 2015

Who do I need to be. . .?

22nd Week OT (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA

So, Jesus – the hometown boy – walks into his synagogue, picks up a scroll, reads a passage from Isaiah, and says, in effect, “God the Father has sent me to rescue y'all, you bunch of sinners.” Surprisingly, this little stunt goes over well. . .at first: “. . .all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” Then some of the less-impressed listeners start asking questions designed to put Jesus in his place, “Hey, wait a minute, isn't he Joseph's boy?” Seeing where this line of questioning is headed, Jesus nips it in the bud, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place.” He then goes on to point out their faithlessness and how their ancestors abused God's prophets, earning the Father's wrath. This went over like a possum fight at a church picnic, and Jesus finds himself run out of town. What's the lesson here? When your people don't like your preaching, insult them repeatedly and wait for them to get their pitchforks and torches? No. Not quite. If there's a lesson here, it's this: remember who you are wherever you are and preach the truth with charity. 

Now, you might think that I'm accusing Jesus of not preaching the truth with charity. Not true. Jesus was on a tight schedule. He was headed to Jerusalem on a time-table. And he didn't have the luxury of winning hearts and minds with carefully crafted homilies. He spoke the truth. And he did so as a sign of his salvific love for his people. That he was dealing with hearts grown cold and minds long closed is no fault of his. No doubt, someone in that synagogue that day heard and saw what he needed to see and hear and came to know Christ as Lord. Jesus' method of revealing his identity and mission is meant to shock those cold hearts and closed minds into recognizing the truth that stands before them. What they heard him say amazed some and enraged others. How these two groups divided out has everything to do with who Jesus is for them. He's a hometown boy. They know him and his family. They've probably known him all his life. And now, here he is claiming to be the long-awaited Messiah. Some are amazed at his gracious words. Others are enraged by his arrogance. But Jesus is who he is – the Lamb of God headed to the altar of sacrifice in Jerusalem. He speaks the truth. And his love is made manifest on the cross.

And how does he love us from the cross? He says himself that he will bring glad tidings to the poor. He will proclaim liberty to captives. He will restore sight to the blind. And he will let the oppressed go free. All true. He also says, pointing to Isaiah's prophecy, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” But do his listeners hear him? Some do, some don't. Do we? Do we hear the Lord when he says that he is sent to set us free? Maybe we hear, but do we believe? Do we truly trust his word, his word that we are free? Free from sin, free from death, free from the traps of daily disobedience and despair. Free from whatever and whoever it is that oppresses us. And as men and women freed from sin and death, we are vessels of and vehicles for bringing Christ's truth to the world and bringing that truth in love. It's not enough that the truth be spoken; it must be spoken so that it might be heard. When you speak the truth, be prepared to hear “hypocrite,” “don't judge me,” “holier-than-thou,” “keep your god out of my life.” Do not be put off. Speak the truth again and speak it until you can speak it to be heard. Remember who you are in Christ. Wherever you go, you belong to Christ. It's his truth you speak. Speak it with love.

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  1. "a possum fight at a picnic"?!?

    Last paragraph is a keeper. Thanks for posting.

    1. Nobody wants a possum fight at a church picnic. . .