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Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Jeremiah 1:4–10, 1 Corinthians 13:1–13 & Luke 4:21–30
Today’s gospel passage continues on from last week’s reading. Jesus is in the synagogue of his hometown in Nazareth. And he has just finished reading a section from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. The section that Jesus reads, is basically an announcement by Isaiah, of the ministry that God has called him to carry out to the Israelites, who are returning to Jerusalem after having been exiled in Babylon for seventy years. 

Having finished reading, Jesus sits down and tells those in the synagogue, that the passage of prophecy he has just read to them, has now been fulfilled in their hearing. What Jesus is saying, is that he is the fulfilment of the prophecy. In the same way that Isaiah was proclaiming liberation for the exiles returning from Babylon, Jesus too is proclaiming liberation for all people. The difference between the two though, is the liberation that Jesus proclaims, is liberation from sin.

Luke tells us the people respond positively to the proclamation that Jesus makes. Luke says that, “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth”. 

The people acknowledge that Jesus is the son of Joseph, and they proudly proclaim him as one of their own. In a sense he is a local boy made good. But the readers of Luke’s Gospel know, that Jesus is not only Joseph’s son, he is also God’s son. And they know, that he must soon leave both his family and hometown, to carry out the business that God, his Heavenly Father, has in store for him.

As if to preempt a move from the people of Nazareth to keep him there and control him, Jesus challenges those in the synagogue, by suggesting that they will no doubt want him to perform the same healing and miracles in Nazareth, that he has performed in other towns in Galilee, such as Capernaum. But Jesus doesn’t allow himself to be confined, because God’s mission for him, will take him far beyond the location of his hometown and its own selfish interests. 

To demonstrate the point about his mission not being confined to the limits of his hometown, Jesus then introduces two stories, involving the prophets Elijah and Elisha, in which both prophets minister to people who are not members of the nation of Israel. 

In the case of Elijah, he is sent by God, during a time of great famine, to a widow in the Gentile city of Sidon, to save her and her son from starvation. There were any number of widows in Israel at the time, who were no doubt facing similar circumstances, but God chose to send Elijah to the Gentile widow. Similarly, in the story of Elisha, there were many people living in Israel who suffered from leprosy, but God chose to send Naaman the Syrian, to Elisha, to be cured of his leprosy. In both cases, God’s glory is revealed to (and through) someone who is not a member of God’s chosen people. Likewise with Jesus, God’s glory will be revealed to (and through) people who are not from Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth.

The mood of the people in the synagogue in Nazareth now changes dramatically. They go from being full of admiration for one of their own, to being full of anger towards him. They drag him out of the synagogue, and take him to the edge of the cliff to throw him off it, but Luke tells us that Jesus “passed through the midst of them and went on his way”. 

Scholars suggest, that the events detailed in this passage by Luke, are actually a way of looking forward, to the events that await Jesus when he visits, not his hometown, but the capital of his “own people” in Jerusalem. In that situation, Jesus will initially be well received by the people, but will ultimately be rejected and then put to death. But then, he will also be raised from the dead, and in so doing he will “pass through their midst”, as he returns to his Father in heaven.

Today’s gospel passage shows us that acceptance, is at the heart of Jesus’ message. All people are invited to share in God’s hospitality, but they must first choose to accept God’s gracious invitation. And today’s passage from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, makes it clear how people are to receive this invitation–they are to receive it with love.

In the opening verses of today’s reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul describes the various gifts that are given to people by the grace of God: the gift of speaking in tongues; the gift of prophecy; the gift of intellectual knowledge; the gift of passionate faith; and the gift of charity. But if all of these gifts are used without love, they are worthless. Paul then lists fifteen characteristics that constitute Christian love: love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious; love is not boastful et cetera. 

What Paul is saying, is that it might be wonderful that through the Holy Spirit God has given a Christian the ability to speak in tongues. But if that person believes that their gift makes them superior to those who cannot speak in tongues, then they are not using the gift in the way that God intended. Similarly if someone has been blessed with great knowledge, but they are unable or unwilling to treat others with compassion, then that knowledge is wasted.

In last week’s reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul spoke about the fact that as members of the Church we have all been blessed with various gifts; gifts that when used together for the benefit of the Church, make the Church more effective in carrying out the tasks that God has charged the Church with. Now Paul tells us that it is not enough to just use our God given gifts. We have to ensure that at all times, when we are using them, we are doing so with love.

And our first reading this morning, from the Book of the prophet Jeremiah, reminds us that our specific gift and purpose has been preordained for us by God. Just as Jeremiah was destined by God to be a prophet of Israel while still in his mother’s womb, each one of us has been destined for a specific purpose. 

The challenge for us, is to discern what God’s purpose is for each and every one of us. And to discern God’s purpose means we first need to open ourselves up to God, so that can be aware of His active presence in our lives. 

And having discerned God’s purpose for us, we can trust in Him to provide us with whatever is necessary for us to fulfil that purpose. For just as He said to Jeremiah, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.”

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