Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time C: January 30, 2022
Luke 4: 21-30
Fr. John Tran
How quickly we can change; one moment someone is just the greatest person we have ever met, and the next moment he or she is to be despised. We are so fickle. It takes so very little for us to turn from joy in a person, to feeling cheated by them.
This is what happened in today’s gospel. The people of Nazareth had heard so much how well Jesus, a local boy, was doing. He was amazing: he preached about God with authority; he cured people of disease; he cast out demons; he was spoken of so well everywhere. And then, he comes home. Last week as we read the beginning of this chapter, the hometown people were very impressed and could not say enough good about Jesus. But, today, in a few short moments we see a total change in attitude.
The first indication is that the people realize that this guy is one of them, so how could he be so high and mighty. Maybe the reaction was not so bad at first; they could remember Jesus as a boy and teenager, and could not see how he could now seem so far above them. They felt a little turned off by his success.
But as Jesus responds by reminding them that no prophet was accepted in his own country, they began to get angry. How dare he say such a thing. To top it off, Jesus compares them to the non-Jews who were rejected by God for healing and help, by bringing up the stories of the foreign leper who was cured and the foreign woman and her son who were saved from starvation. The Jews at that time who were suffering from the same things were not so helped. Now the hometown crowd was ready to kill.
Brinsley McNamara wrote a classic story called The Valley of the Squinting Windows. He came from a very rural area of Ireland and was well known, because his father was a teacher in the local school. Brinsley's story was such that everybody in the village recognized themselves among the characters of the story. This led to public outrage in his hometown, while the rest of the country was avidly reading the book! The rest of the country could not understand the reaction of those townspeople. In the hometown the book was burned in public, his family had to leave town, and, to this day, his name still evokes strong reactions among many of the people of that town. What he wrote was too close to the bone. If he had written a book about the people of some other town, he probably would have been hailed as the local literary hero. To this day none of his descendants would dare return to their roots in that town. Those townspeople did, in a symbolic way, take him outside the town, and throw him over a cliff.
We too, like the residents of Ireland towards McNamara's townspeople , are a little angry by the reaction of Nazareth to Jesus. But, this gospel holds lessons for us too. We can be just like those people of Nazareth: We can sometimes become comfortable and complacent with Jesus message. Familiarity with the gospel blinds us to its challenges. The call of the poor becomes distant. We ignore injustice that does not touch us directly. We welcome the Jesus who affirms and reassures us, yet find it hard to embrace the Christ who calls us beyond ourselves as individuals and as Church.
Inspired by Jesus, may we find courage to venture beyond the familiar. May we be bold in our responses to need, generous in our compassion, and open to possibility that we do not expect as we continue Jesus’ mission in our own time and place.