Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C 2019
Contemporary society seems delusional when it comes to approval ratings. There is a growing trend for acceptance, for popularity. Perhaps, these are symptoms of the deep-seated loneliness or the indifference that bedevils society. Ask anyone on social media, politician or even Church leaders, the slogan is similar “be careful not to ‘rock the boat’ lest you lose their approval”. So, for want of approval, we avoid confronting reality. We compromise the truth.
While this trend seems to be a growing concern in our time, it was also common in the time of Jesus. The Chief Priests, the Elders and the powers that be never wanted a figure that will upset the polity. They never wanted the Romans to come in and question them again. For the last time there was an uproar, the Romans warned them sternly. So, this accounts for their total approval of Christ. Unlike the prophets before Him, His words at first didn’t stir the polity.
But Jesus could see through the uneasiness growing among them. The uneasiness that comes from a false peace. The peace of avoiding issues, the truth. He could read their falsehood and their sheer hypocrisy. He could hear the unspoken story, which the fear of the Romans has silenced. However, unlike His contemporaries, He wasn’t afraid to lose their approval. For He knew what is lost in time, is gained in time and even better. Thus, He challenged the status quo.
All this was not without very serious consequences. As the Gospel reading from Luke 4:21-30 relays, “When they heard this (the truth they have been avoiding that He is the Messiah not just the son of Joseph), everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They sprang to their feet and hustled Him out of the town; and took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw Him down the cliff, but He slipped through the crowd and walked away”.
Interestingly, today’s Gospel reading opens with verse 21“This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen”. While this text is referred to Isaiah prophecy of the Messiah, it could also be read in the context of today’s celebrations as referring to the First reading (Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19). Here, God called the prophet Jeremiah to “Stand up and tell the people all that He has commanded him to say”. Note, this call comes with a burden and a promise.
The burden is that “Jeremiah is to tell the people all God had commanded him to say without fear. For if he is dismayed at their presence, in their presence God will make him, Jeremiah dismayed”. By extension, this burden rests on all of us who by baptism are prophets. Thus, we, like Jeremiah, are called to tell ourselves first, and then the people around us what God is saying or asking of us. We are to speak the truth of our origin, meaning, morality and destiny.
This is a heavy burden with grave consequences. For when we say what God is saying about marriage, we may lose our spouse. When we say what God is saying about politics, we may lose our job. When we say what God is asking of us in terms of how we shall live our lives, we may lose our friends, we may no longer be cool, and our approval ratings may go down. So, there is a crisis of conscience. We are caught between what God wants and what is safe for us.
On the other hand, the call also comes with a promise. In verses 18-19, the Lord promised Jeremiah, “I, for my part, today will make you into a fortified city, a pillar of iron, and a wall of bronze to confront all this land: the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests and the country people. They will fight against you but shall not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you – it is the Lord who speaks.” We are sharers in this promise by virtue of our baptism.
Thus, we can’t afford to be afraid of the consequences of standing up and telling ourselves and others what God is saying or asking of us. For God fulfilled the promise He made to Jeremiah by making it possible for Jesus to slip through the crowd and walk away. He will deliver us too from any situation we may find ourselves in when we speak on His behalf. Besides, the promise God made Jeremiah, He signed it in His Name. And God honours His Name.
But there is something more, something endemic in our society. It could be said that it is the main cause of our delusion in seeking approval. That is, the absence of love. We talk of love. We write about it and we even sing about it, but not many of us love. Perhaps, this is because we have not experienced love. St. Paul in the Second reading draws us to the reality of love. First, he tells us what love is not. It is not jealous nor rude. It doesn’t take pleasure in the sins of others.
Second, he tells us what love is. Love is patience. Love is kind. Love delights in the truth. Love is ever ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure all. Love never comes to end. Interestingly, Paul’s discourse on love was counter-cultural. It was met with violent reactions from the Corinthians. But Paul was still bold enough to speak of love despite their reactions because he had experienced God’s love. This experience drove away the fear of their disapproval.
For love isn’t afraid of disapproval since it has the capacity to endure all things. Love also has the capacity to trust all that God has promised. It has the capacity to wait on God to fulfil His promises even when the odds are against it. Love is bold because it is free of self-preoccupation. It doesn’t desire anything for its own gain. But it wishes, says and does all for the good of the other. Love is the only remedy for society’s delusion of approval. Love is our calling, our destiny.