Monday, February 04, 2013

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

3 February 2013 

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Luke 4:21-30

As usual, I’ll start with a little background.  At the time of Jeremiah’s call, the Assyrian conquest of northern kingdom, Israel, and the exile of its people, is still fresh in the minds of the people of Judah.  Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry spanned the reigns of five kings of Judah, starting with Josiah and ending with Zedekiah.  During his reign, Josiah abolished idolatry and the people have returned to the worship of Yahweh.  But upon Josiah’s death the people forgot their promises to Yahweh.  Jeremiah tried to get the people to return to godly ways but his pleas were ignored.  The result was their conquest by the Babylonians, the destruction of the temple, and the people’s exile to Babylon.

The First Reading describes Jeremiah’s call to be God’s prophet.  We are all called by virtue of our baptism to be prophets.  Jeremiah serves as a model for all of us.  He has been deemed ready, “do not say, ‘I am too young’”.  He has been sent, “go wherever I send you” and he has been commanded, “say whatever I command you”.   Jeremiah has been commissioned, “This day I appoint you over nations and territories, to uproot and to tear down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.’  In other words, equipped with God’s words in his mouth, Jeremiah is to shatter and form worlds by his speech.  Walter Brueggemann[1] suggests that Jeremiah's call is to shatter  or bring old worlds to an end; and to form or cause new worlds to be.   Brueggemann explains,

The shattering and forming of worlds is not done as a potter moulds clay or as a factory makes products. It is done as a poet "redescribes" the world, reconfigures public perception, and causes people to re-experience their experience.

I find it helpful to look at our call to be prophetic in this way.  It means, we can shatter our own internalization of the myths of scarcity, separation, individualism and competition.   We can tear down the walls these ideas have embedded in our consciousness.  Then, awake to reality, we can start talking to people in our circles about the abundance that comes through sharing, togetherness, collectivism and cooperation. 

I say, we can start talking to people in our circles, because although it seem at first glance, that Jeremiah is over and against the people of Judah, according to Kathleen O’Connor[2], he is not.  She suggests that Jeremiah’s calling is rooted in the community because the book of Jeremiah is concerned with the community’s survival and their eventual return to Judah after the exile.   She further suggests that Jeremiah’s purpose is to help the community to endure its present suffering, to understand and absorb what has happened to it, and, finally, to rededicate itself as God's covenant people.

But as we see from today’s Gospel, working with our hometown communities is not an easy task.   Today’s Gospel tells us that everyone thought what Jesus was saying was fine, that is, until they recognized him as one of their own.  All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.  They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’

Jesus reveals to them that he is aware of what they are thinking and tells them, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in their home town.  He drives his point home with examples of prophets being sent to those outside their own communities.  The people are so enraged that they chase Jesus out of town and were about to throw him off a cliff but Jesus passes through them and escapes.

Jesus could have had Jeremiah in mind when he said no prophet is accepted in their hometown.  Jeremiah lamented that no one believed him when he spoke.  He was even thrown in prison because of what he was saying.  He was brought to the brink of despair and even denounced his calling.  But Jeremiah comes through this dark night of the soul with his confidence in God renewed.  One can almost hear Jeremiah saying the words in today’s Psalm “For you, O God, are my hope, my Source of Trust, from my youth.

So what does all this mean for us, as Christians, as Catholics?  It means that we have to remember the vision of the way of living taught by Jesus.  We have to reject the God-imprisoning and Spirit-domesticating structure built by Constantine that encourages power, privilege and support of the empire.  We have to use scripture, theological reflection, love and community to re-vision our church and our world.  We have to reconfigures public perception and cause people to re-experience their experiences through a lens focused on love, caring, kindness and sharing.   You may think that’s a tall order; it is, if you’re trying to do it alone.  But that is why we come together as a community, so that we can figure it out together and invite others into our figuring. We come together to become prophetic agents of change, informed by Jesus’ Gospel of love and justice.  As the Hopi people say, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

1.  What words has God put in your mouth to speak?
2.  How can we as a community of faith help you speak them?

[1] Brueggemann, Walter. "The Book of Jeremiah: Portrait of the Prophet." Interpretation. 37. no. 2 (1983): 130-145.

[2] O'Connor, Kathleen M. "The Prophet Jeremiah and Exclusive Loyalty to God." Interpretation, 59, no. 2APRIL (2005): 130-140.


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