Welcome back to the Sunday Mass notes for 1-31-2016. This week we open with two passages from the prophecy of Jeremiah, who served during the time of Judah’s spiritual downfall, preparing her for captivity and removal from the land. The second reading is from the familiar but remarkable chapter on love in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian Church. The final reading is from Luke’s Gospel and relates the story of Jesus’ encounter in a Jewish synagogue where His teaching so enraged the people that they tried to kill Him.
Introduction to the First Reading:
Because of his great sorrow over the sin of the people and impending judgment to come upon them, Jeremiah is sometimes referred to as the “weeping prophet.” He was not just a melancholy neurotic, however; his was a soul of deep spirituality and great sensibility. One writer describes Jeremiah as “the most Christ-like character in the Old Testament.” The prophet saw the beginning of the nation’s Babylonian captivity and the destruction of Jerusalem. In spite of his preaching, he had no converts. He was rejected by his own people, hated, beaten, imprisoned, called a traitor, and forced to flee. Nonetheless, he was faithful to deliver God’s message to the people, knowing it would fall on deaf ears.
Jeremiah 1:4-5 NAS95 4 Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, 5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Jeremiah 1:17-19 NAS95 17 “Now, gird up your loins and arise, and speak to them all which I command you. Do not be dismayed before them, or I will dismay you before them. 18 “Now behold, I have made you today as a fortified city and as a pillar of iron and as walls of bronze against the whole land, to the kings of Judah, to its princes, to its priests and to the people of the land. 19 “They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you,” declares the LORD.
How reassuring it must have been for Jeremiah to have God speak to him directly and assure him that he was created by God and known by Him before his birth. God had chosen, “consecrated” (that is, set him apart), and “appointed” him to be his prophet to Judah, the remaining southern portion of the former kingdom of Israel.
Jeremiah began his ministry during the reign of Josiah (1:2) and lived through the reformation that Josiah brought about after the discovery of the Book of the Law in the Temple (see 2 Kings 22-23). To see the nation’s departure from the faith and their refusal to repent was no doubt the cause for the prophet’s great sorrow. His commission from the Lord must have been a great challenge from the very beginning. Although God told him he would make him like a “fortified city” and “a pillar of iron” with “walls of bronze,” He also warned him that the people “will fight against you.” It would be difficult for anyone to accept such a challenge with enthusiasm and hopeful prospects. The reader might be reminded of Isaiah who, also, was told that his message would be heard but not understood; the people would see but not perceive; their hearts would be “calloused,” their “ears dull,” and their eyes “closed” (Isaiah 6:9-10). But God did not leave Jeremiah without hope at all. He assured him that the people would not overcome him and, best of all, He said, “I am with you to deliver you.”
Success for Jeremiah was not to see Judah protected from captivity or delivered from the enemy. Nor was it to have the nation respond to his message with repentance, a change of heart and mind, and a return to God in faith and obedience. Success was to be faithful in preaching the message God gave him, to persist in spite of opposition, and to trust God for the outcome. Thus, Jeremiah is a worthy model for us to emulate.
Introduction to the Second Reading:
Paul’s ministry in Corinth is recorded in Acts 18 toward the end of his second missionary journey. Corinth was a Roman colony, an influential city in its province. In spite of difficulties and opposition in Corinth, Paul remained there “many days,” perhaps 18 months. In his first letter to the Corinthians, a few years after his initial visit, the apostle deals with a number of problems, disagreements, and even divisions in the church body. His purpose is to correct the errors and encourage the people to spiritual growth and unity. Sanctification might well be considered the theme, that is, the encouragement to follow Jesus in obedience and life transformation that would set them apart as disciples of Christ.
Today’s reading is in the middle of a very detailed discussion of spiritual gifts, which begins in 12:1 and continues in chapters 14 & 15.Perhaps Paul understood that the subject in hand was so controversial and divisive that he needed to introduce a topic of essential importance if there was to be harmony among the believers. Chapter 13 is known far-and-wide as the great chapter on love, and it must be clearly understood if it is to become the standard by which Christ-followers are to be known. (See John 13:34-45).
1 Corinthians 12:31 – 13:13 NAS95 31 But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way. 1 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Paul makes it clear in chapter 12 that spiritual gifts are supernaturally given to the church for the benefit of the body, not for individual pleasure. As he writes in v. 31, believers “should earnestly desire the greater gifts, and he proceeds to show a “more excellent way,” the way of love. To read chapter 13 is to understand something about the essential element for unity in the body and fruitful ministry. “Love conquers all,” as they say.
Verses 1-3 highlight the preeminence of love. No matter how effective we might be in getting our message out, no matter how gifted we may be, no matter how great our faith in God is—without love, our efforts will be fruitless, and our work will be for nothing. We should keep in mind that there are several words for love in the language that Paul used. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul chose to use the word agapé, which is a word of action more than emotion. It means acting toward another person in the best interest of that person. It is unselfish, other-directed, and self-sacrificing. Paul is saying that love is preferred over eloquence, prophecy, mysteries, knowledge, faith—all of which he himself demonstrated in abundance.
The words that describe love in verses 4-7 are indicative of the qualities that the Christian should possess and demonstrate. Many are included in the list of the Spirit’s “fruit,” in Galatians 5:22-23. We would do well to ask ourselves, “How many of these godly traits do I show to others in my daily life?” Patience, kindness, generosity, humility, goodness, graciousness, confidence, assurance, endurance: are they easily seen in our lives? One of the most convicting truths about love is that it doesn’t keep track of wrongs. How difficult it is for many of us to lovingly overlook the wrongs done against us.
The concluding verses of the chapter (8-13) emphasize the permanence of love. Everything else may pass away from our lives and experience, but love will endure. Paul uses a very helpful metaphor to explain how life should reflect our growing maturity. We used to “speak,” “think,” and “reason like a child,” but when we grew up, we “did away with childish things.” He goes on to teach us that we have not yet arrived, we see things now only “dimly,” but one day it will be “face to face,” and then we’ll understand fully all that God has planned for us. The concluding sentence (v. 13) is well known, but perhaps not fully appreciated. Faith and hope are essential, of course, and they will continue to be important, but the greatest attribute of the Christian life is the continual demonstration of love. Jesus said that we are to “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-38).
Introduction to the Gospel Reading:
Luke’s Gospel is the result of the careful study of Dr. Luke, a companion of the apostle Paul, who wanted to present an accurate review of the life and ministry of Jesus. Luke focuses on Jesus as Savior, a divine man. He stresses the humanity of Jesus Christ and his perfection as a human. He makes it clear that the gospel is for both Jews and Gentles. He seeks to confirm what Christians already believed was true and trustworthy. Today’s reading details the appearance of Jesus in a synagogue in Nazareth, his hometown. Apparently he attended there regularly. On this occasion he stood up to read from the sacred scrolls. In this passage we read about the conflict between Jesus and the crowd who earlier “were speaking well of him,” but changed in their attitude after His reading.
Luke 4:21-30 NAS95 21 And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” 23 And He said to them, “No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’” 24 And He said, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown. 25 “But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; 26 and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 “And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; 29 and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, He went His way.
Jesus read a portion of chapter 61 of Isaiah’s prophecy, and indicated that it had “been fulfilled in your hearing.” At that point everyone responded well to His comment and wondered what it all meant. They identified Jesus with Joseph, Mary’s husband, and the presumed father of Jesus. Jesus knows that the people had heard of the wonderful things he had done at Capernaum and knew that the people wondered why he didn’t do such things here in Nazareth. Jesus answers with what has become a common expression today, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country.”
Jesus then relates two stories that were, no doubt, familiar to his audience. The prophet Elijah had helped a poor widow who was suffering in the midst of a famine of three-and-a-half years. His successor, Elisha, brought healing to the Syrian general, Naaman, a leper. The point of these illustrations from history is that even the greatest of God’s prophets did not serve everyone; not every leper was healed; not every widow was cared for. Likewise, although Jesus may have performed miracles in other places, He did not do so everywhere and for everyone. The crowd seemed incensed that He did not do these works in His hometown.
Why was the crowd so upset to the degree that they “drove Him out of the city”? They were so enraged that they had intended to throw Him off a cliff. Only by God’s miraculous deliverance was Jesus able to escape “passing through their midst.” There are several probable major reasons. First, Jesus related two Old Testament stories of the prophets ministering to Gentiles during a time of Israel’s unbelief and disobedience. Remember, that one of Luke’s purposes in writing his Gospel was to reveal God’s great plan to include Gentiles in His redemptive plan. That was an irritant to the Jews.
Second, Jesus seemed to equate Himself with the revered Old Testament prophets. Furthermore, He was making an unambiguous claim that He was the Messiah who fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy that He had read. It was because of the total impact of these claims that we read, “They were filled with rage” and sought to kill Him.
Bottom Line: Questions for Reflection
1. Ask yourself, “Could I, like Jeremiah, remain faithful to teaching God’s Word in the midst of strong opposition, endangering my life?” In what ways are you facing opposition to your Christian beliefs and way of life? How has God empowered you to take a stand for Him?
2. I worked for many years with several people who I found out many years later were Christians. I was surprised that they had never approached me to discuss their beliefs, and their bashfulness made me ponder their motives in not doing so. Yet even if they did not speak up I knew that there was something different about them. In what ways is your life characterized by love so anyone who knows you would recognize that you belong to Jesus?
Note: For a listing of readings for the Roman Catholic Mass, visit this web site:
Online Scripture verses for most Bible versions can be found at: http://www.biblegateway.com/