Jer 1:4-5, 17-19; 1 Cor 12:31-13:13; Lk 4:21-30
In today's gospel, we see the people’s cruel reaction to the person of Jesus. “They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town; and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him down the cliff . . .” (Lk 4:29). Why are these people so mad of Jesus that they want to kill him?
John Pilch, a respected Bible scholar, provides us with some relevant information. First of all, it is customary in Mediterranean culture for a son to carry on his father’s trade and his grandfather’s name. Jesus causes a controversy because he does not seem to be carrying his father’s trade. The people are asking, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” They know Jesus’ family and they are aware of the fact that his father is a carpenter. And so they are wondering why this guy is doing something different. Why is he acting like a prophet instead of doing carpentry like his father? In the Mediterranean world, Jesus’ behavior is quite anomalous.
Moreover, the people are mad of Jesus because he preaches in his hometown but performs not a single miracle there. The people think that if this man really is a prophet and miracle worker, then he should at least do something for his own people and not simply announce the arrival of the Messianic age. Instead, Jesus aligns himself with the prophets Elijah and Elisha who had extended God’s favor to gentiles, considered outsiders by the Jews. Directing healing miracles to others first rather than to his own kinsmen make people extremely angry of Jesus.
Obviously, the Lord understands the universality of his mission and he does not want to show partiality in fulfilling his task. He wants people to understand that God plays no favorites, that divine love really is intended equally for all. The writers of the Old Testament also had this basic awareness of the encompassing nature of God’s love. In the first reading, for example, Jeremiah is appointed by God as a prophet to the “nations”, implying the universality of his mission.
Today’s good news inspires us to emulate the way Jesus fulfills his missionary task. Let us learn the art of universal loving, that which always considers the good of all, not only of the few who are close to us. Christian love, the theme of Paul’s letter in the second reading, embraces all, rich and poor, ignorant and educated, sinners and saints. For genuine Christians, selective loving is no loving at all. This message is particularly important for Filipinos because the “tayo-tayo (we) mentality” is quite strong in our culture. We are very proud of our strong spirit of bayanihan (camaraderie), pakikipagkapwa (fellowship) and pakikiisa (solidarity). But, our generosities often are very parochial and we lack genuine social concerns. It is unfortunately observed that while Filipino homes are immaculately clean, our public toilets are dirty. Our failing concern for the common good is manifested more clearly in the practice of nepotism which is quite rampant in our institutions, political and religious. We can afford to sacrifice the national interests in favor of our local constituents or of our families.
The gospel also inspires us to imitate Jesus’ courage to speak the truth, no matter what the cost. The Lord knows that by speaking against the clannish and exclusivist attitude of his own people, he will get the ire of his listeners. Nevertheless, Jesus goes on to speak the truth. He says what he has to say, and he doesn’t care who gets hurt in the process, even if it means him also getting hurt. The truth, for Jesus, is non-negotiable; it is not influenced by his own selfish interests. This also is an important reminder to us Filipinos because often we are willing to exchange our values and principles for the sake of political or financial interests. Our cherish value of utang na loob (sense of gratitude) has become for us a liability for genuine national prosperity.
Once there was a farming town that could be reached only by a narrow road with a bad curve in it. There were frequent accidents on the road, especially at the curve, and the preacher would preach to the people of the town to make sure they were Good Samaritans. And so they were, as they would pick the people up on the road, for this was a religious work. One day someone suggested they buy an ambulance to get the accident victims to the town hospital more quickly. The preacher preached and the people gave, for this was a religious work.
Then one day a councilman suggested that the town authorize building a wider road and taking out the dangerous curve. Now it happened that the mayor had a farm market right at the curve on the road, and he was against taking out the curve. Someone asked the preacher to say a word to the mayor and the congregation next Sunday about it. But the preacher and most of the people figured they had better stay out of politics; so next Sunday the preacher preached on the Good Samaritan Gospel and encouraged the people to continue their fine work of picking up the accident victims, which they did.
(The Story is told by Francis X. Meehan in A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers by William J. Bausch)