Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

800px-Meister_der_Kahriye-Cami-Kirche_in_Istanbul_001 Medieval mosaic of nazareth

Nazareth in the Medieval Period

Central Idea: The world rejects but cannot overcome those who belong to God. Doctrine: The virtue of hopePractical Application: Acts of hope.

To view today’s readings, click here (Lectionary 72).

Central Idea: The world rejects but cannot overcome those who belong to God.

Reading 1 Jer 1:4-5, 17-19

The word of the LORD came to me, saying:
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I dedicated you,
a prophet to the nations I appointed you.

But do you gird your loins;
stand up and tell them
all that I command you.
Be not crushed on their account,
as though I would leave you crushed before them;
for it is I this day
who have made you a fortified city,
a pillar of iron, a wall of brass,
against the whole land:
against Judah’s kings and princes,
against its priests and people.
They will fight against you but not prevail over you,
for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.

  • Because God chose Jeremiah to speak his word to Israel, the prophet should fear nothing that the people of Israel will threaten to do to him. Even though they will be allowed to do a lot to him, God will deliver him.
  • Because Jesus Christ is the Word of God whose mission was to speak the word of God to Israel, he feared nothing that the people of Israel would threaten to do to him, including being thrown off a cliff by his native townspeople. Even though they would be allowed to do a lot to him—even execute him— he would be delivered from death in his glorious Resurrection.
  • Because God has chosen us in his Son to speak his word to our world today, we should fear nothing that men who reject us can do to us. Even if they are allowed to do a lot to us, even kill us, God will deliver us by giving us eternal life.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 71:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 15-17

R. (cf. 15ab) I will sing of your salvation.
In you, O LORD, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your justice rescue me, and deliver me;
incline your ear to me, and save me.
R. I will sing of your salvation.
Be my rock of refuge,
a stronghold to give me safety,
for you are my rock and my fortress.
O my God, rescue me from the hand of the wicked.
R. I will sing of your salvation.
For you are my hope, O Lord;
my trust, O God, from my youth.
On you I depend from birth;
from my mother’s womb you are my strength.
R. I will sing of your salvation.
My mouth shall declare your justice,
day by day your salvation.
O God, you have taught me from my youth,
and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deeds.
R. I will sing of your salvation.
  • There are only two persons—maybe three—who really have had the right to sing this psalm. Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and probably St. Joseph are the three people who really only depended on God from their youth and were entirely faithful to their Creator from conception. The rest of us—including the future King David and the great prophet Jeremiah—are to some extent frauds because we depend on ourselves a lot and often only really turn to God in our distress.
  • Yet through Baptism we get to identify with Christ and we can begin to take refuge in God and hope for deliverance from our enemies.
  • And we need this deliverance.
    • Some men will hate us simply because they are hateful predators.
    • Others will hate us because we are followers of Christ who don’t live our faith perfectly.
    • Still others will hate us on an ascending scale: The more perfectly we identify ourselves with Christ the more they will be furious with us and seek to destroy us.
  • In all these cases we want God to do for us what he did for Jeremiah and David, and what he did for his Son when the townsmen of Nazareth meant to murder him, to just walk away through their midst unharmed.

Reading 2 1 Cor 12:31—13:13

Brothers and sisters:
Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts.
But I shall show you a still more excellent way.

If I speak in human and angelic tongues,
but do not have love,
I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy,
and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge;
if I have all faith so as to move mountains,
but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away everything I own,
and if I hand my body over so that I may boast,
but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, it is not pompous,
It is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.
If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing;
if tongues, they will cease;
if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.
For we know partially and we prophesy partially,
but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
When I was a child, I used to talk as a child,
think as a child, reason as a child;
when I became a man, I put aside childish things.
At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror,
but then face to face.
At present I know partially;
then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.
So faith, hope, love remain, these three;
but the greatest of these is love.

  • Pope Benedict XVI says, quoting St. Augustine, “if you see charity you see the Trinity.” When you see real love you are seeing God.
  • What is this love or charity? St. Paul wisely describes it, telling us what it is like and what it is not like. But can we venture to define it, to help us understand it even better, to help us live it?
  • Charity is to love one another as Christ has loved us, that is, as a good slave serves his master, as a man lays down his life for a friend.
  • It is to will the true good of the other, or, in other words, it is to do for another what is really the best thing for him or her.
  • Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., says that love is the condition in which doing good for another is as easy and pleasant as doing the good for oneself.
  • For most of us, most of the time, real love is doing something for another person which costs us something.

Gospel Lk 4:21-30

Jesus began speaking in the synagogue, saying:
“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
And all spoke highly of him
and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.
They also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?”
He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb,
‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say,
‘Do here in your native place
the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.'”
And he said, “Amen, I say to you,
no prophet is accepted in his own native place.
Indeed, I tell you,
there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah
when the sky was closed for three and a half years
and a severe famine spread over the entire land.
It was to none of these that Elijah was sent,
but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon.
Again, there were many lepers in Israel
during the time of Elisha the prophet;
yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
When the people in the synagogue heard this,
they were all filled with fury.
They rose up, drove him out of the town,
and led him to the brow of the hill
on which their town had been built,
to hurl him down headlong.
But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.
  • The townsmen of Nazareth became so furious with Our Lord that they tried to murder him. Jesus did not perform miraculous signs there.
  • When Jesus did work miracles, he did them to show mercy and compassion, to demonstrate what the reign of God was going to be like, and to reinforce the truth of the words he preached.
  • There were many miracles Jesus did not perform. Even though on two occasions he miraculously fed thousands by multiplying loaves and fish, there are the millions of others on earth from the beginning of time who have been hungry.
    • Why does he allow any hunger? Why didn’t Our Lord cure every disease and infirmity, cast out every demon, and raise every corpse from the dead?
    • The basic answer is that Christ came to redeem us from sin and eternal death, not to make this present world into an eternal paradise. Heaven is paradise; this world is something else.
  • God wants our world to keep its chiaroscuro or dramatic black and white dimensions of good and evil, happiness and sadness, pleasure and pain, joy and suffering, and life and death. He wants the world to remain this dramatic arena in which we work out our salvation with the help of grace.
  • This Gospel reminds us
    • we should not be surprised if we want something from God and don’t get it or have to wait for it;
    • we should not be surprised if some people we assumed were our friends reject us and even try to harm us, thinking they are justified in doing so;
    • we should not be surprised if a good portion of the world seems to be rejecting the faith.
  • Our world is the arena in which love, which is doing the best thing for another at the cost of self-sacrifice, can be victorious. This is the field of the battle of faith, where we believe and act on everything God has revealed. And this is the place where we exercise hope, the confident expectation that God will do for us what he has promised: redeem us and give us eternal life.

Doctrine: The virtue of hope[1]

  • Vatican II named one of its two greatest documents Gaudium et Spes, meaning joy and hope. It begins, “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.” Isn’t human life all about the hope that someday we will leave suffering behind and have secure happiness?
  • Hope is the desire of attaining a future good. Reaching this good is difficult and by no means certain, yet hope is a certainty it will be possessed. Because this future good is so good, we want it and pursue it, despite obstacles.
  • All of us who are baptized, despite how we feel at any one moment, have at least a kernel of the theological virtue of hope of eternal life with God. We have the confidence that God will give us the graces we need to obtain this highest good. We received this as a gift at baptism.
  • Optimism is a human virtue very necessary in this life. Optimism is the confidence that one’s course of action, like starting a sport, or going off to school, or beginning a new job, or starting a family or a business, will be successful. However, the object of the virtue of hope is much more certain even though the goal seems so much more difficult—after all, it is out of our hands if we will ever survive death or receive a resurrected body. Yet hope is much more certain than natural optimism, since it is based on Gods’ omnipotence, faithfulness, and trustworthiness.
  • An investment broker can promise us a good return on our investment, but that promise is accompanied by about two thousand words of fine print explaining the risks that we might not. God’s promise of eternal life is 100% guaranteed with only two reservations.
    • The first is that we don’t become presumptuous, that is, assume we will be saved no matter how we behave.
    • The second is that we do not give in to despair, the dark judgment that God can’t or won’t help us.

Practical Application: Acts of hope

  • We perform a human act when we freely and knowingly decide to do something. When we feel grief or anxiety and are tempted to discouragement or despair, God expects us to make an act of hope and with his help we can.
  • Since hope is the desire of attaining a difficult future good—in our case eternal life with God, our act of hope is freely and knowingly saying yes in one’s will that God will carry out his promises.
  • There are many ways of putting the act of hope into words.
    • We can use our own spontaneous words.
    • Here is a simple formula Fr. John Hardon, S.J., suggests, which can be memorized: “My God, I hope in You, for grace and for glory, because of Your promises, Your mercy and Your power. Amen.”

[1] This content is paraphrased from Fr. John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary on-line here.

The Homiletic Directory offers the following Catechism points and themes for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time:

  • CCC 436, 1241, 1546: Christ as prophet
  • CCC 904-907: our participation in Christ’s prophetic office
  • CCC 103-104: faith, the beginning of eternal life
  • CCC 1822-1829: charity
  • CCC 772-773, 953: communion in the Church
  • CCC 314, 1023, 2519: those in heaven behold God face to face
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