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Ordinary Time 4 (C)
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Readings for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

1. Jeremiah 1, 4-5 and 17-19

  • The prophet reports about his mission from God.  This brief selection gives us a kind of job description and environmental analysis.  It does not include the prophet’s response.  Let me listen carefully so that I can say it with meaning.
  • The word of the Lord came to me.  How does it come?  Did the prophet see the self-deception that was going on in Judah, and speak his outrage in reaction?  Yes, maybe on one level.  But we hold in faith that God had a greater plan for this marginal mountain kingdom, and raised up this man to speak the bitter truth.  It all begins here, where God speaks to our inmost self.  My credibility as minister depends on whether I believe this, and how I say it. 
  • Something else is going on, too.  Jeremiah was from the elite and had a lot to lose: The kings and princes, priests and people will fight against you.  
  • Before I formed you in the womb I knew youI dedicated youI appointed you.  I am a modern American and I value my autonomy.  So do my listeners.  And yet I have learned another lesson in my faith, and so have they.  I want to say this introduction softly, as if it were a voice reaching the womb.
  • Do you gird your loins, stand up and tell them all that I command you.  I hear a double warning, to be ready for anything and to not hold back.  ‘Tell them all’ would sound like a tabloid editor in anyone else’s voice, but not in mine.
  • Be not crushed on their account, as though I would leave you.  What kind of guts would it take to keep denouncing the ruling class of Judah, or a present-day ruling class?  The book of Jeremiah contains dozens of oracles, and it ends with a stark report about the fate of a nation that did not listen.  The prophet’s only consolation may be that he has been faithful to God and so true to himself.  The Jews in the time of Jesus called him the greatest of all prophets; can I see why?
  • I am with you to deliver you.  I hear a permanent promise, and I have to declare it in such a way that we will remember it and never lose faith.
  • Central point: It is I this day who have made you.  When I find it difficult to tell someone else why I have read a scripture passage in such and such a way, then I will understand these words.
  • Message for our assembly: A vocation to follow God is difficult by nature.  The life of a church goes against the grain, especially in our individualist society.
  • I will challenge myself: To find the intimate voice of God, whom a thoughtful poet once called ‘the hound of heaven.’

 

2. I Corinthians chap. 12, 31 to chap. 13, 13

  • Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts.  But I shall show you a still more excellent way.  Everything that the apostle says from this point on explains what I have just heard.  Different ‘spiritual gifts’ are given to each person, but the ‘excellent way’ is for everyone.  And so I will read the first sentence with an encouraging tone, reminding the congregation what we have heard during the past two weeks.  But I will give the second sentence even greater emphasis.
  • If I speak in tongues but do not have love.  I have to reinforce the triple contrast in my voice.  I want to tell my church to reflect on a community filled with numerous gifts but lacking in self-giving love.  What do we have?  A clashing cymbal (Can I make that cymbal dance as I speak it?)…  I am nothing.
  • Can I describe this self-giving love so that we will remember it?  Patient, kind, not jealous, pompousnot rejoicing over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth, bearing, believing, hoping, enduring.  These are welcoming words, inclusive words, words that befit a team (as long as everyone is on the team – what the apostle says has nothing at all to do with Super Bowl Week or the culture of winning that has corrupted our society and our churches).  Let me practice the sense of welcoming and inclusion that we need.
  • It rejoices with the truth.  Our secular age has its own word: ‘transparency.’
  • Let me listen to a series of contrasts between the present and then (the final days).  We know partially and we prophesy partially.  In other words, we take the talents we are given and do the best we can.  But when the perfect comes – this means that Christ will return and reveal everything.  Let me read the contrasts as if I truly long for the end time.
  • Faith, hope, love remain (for everyone who lives in our communities).  But the greatest of these is love (let the people say that we love one another).
  • Climax: Love never fails.  Everyone can do give of themselves, no matter how young or old or infirm or disabled we are.
  • The message for our assembly: Our first call in terms of stewardship is to give of ourselves for others.  To paraphrase some popular songs, maybe love is not all we need but it is what we need most of all. 
  • I will challenge myself: To read some well-known lines in a passionate appeal to the assembly.  I will help them to meditate again on a kind of love that the world in which we live seems to honor with its lips but refuses to reward in practice.

 

Gospel. Luke 4, 21-30

  • What a violent ending to a homecoming!  They were all filled with fury.  I will practice that indignant edge in my voice, to remind my listeners how fully Jesus tracks the human condition.
  • They were amazed at the gracious words.  I want to convey the sense that they did not listen to his message but rather went on about this neighbor boy and waited for a performance, the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.
  • The words I now hear don’t sound gracious at all, but defiant.  And that is how they will sound when I say them.  Elijah was sent to a widow in the town of Sidon (pagan territory).  Many lepers in Israel, but only the Syrian was cleansed.  Treason?  Blasphemy?  Do we still stand with Jesus?  Remember our government’s response to modern-day Syria.
  • Climax: No prophet is accepted in his own native place. 
  • Message for our assembly: Will we show hostility to others (first reading and Gospel) or open our arms in loving acceptance (second reading)?
  • I will challenge myself: To project the tension as it builds in Nazareth, until the people turn into a mob about to hurl him down the hill headlong.

 

From Word to Eucharist: Let us begin to live the apostle’s beautiful words, reaching out to each other in love, as we recite the intentions and process to communion in one body.

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