CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 24 August 2019

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Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - The prophet : a sign of contradiction

Today’s passage resumes from last Sunday’s reading that recounts what happened in the synagogue of Nazareth when Jesus proclaimed the beginning of the year of grace. What he read is like a manifesto of the whole mission of Jesus which included: the salvation of the poor, the weak, and the oppressed.
 
Initially, when Jesus read the passage: “All agreed with him, and were lost in wonder while he spoke of the grace of God.” How did the approval turn into antagonism, so suddenly? Jesus, probabaly, did something against the expectations of the people. Could it be?
 
One thing we note is that, Jesus abruptly stopped reading after a verse and a half. Why has he not gone further? If one reads what comes next in that text of Isaiah, one can deduce the reason. After “I was sent ... to announce the Lord’s year of mercy” the text continues: “and the day of vengeance of our God” (Isaiah 61:2).
 
That was the phrase that everyone wanted to hear. The inhabitants of Nazareth, like all the Israelites, craved this revenge of God against pagans who had oppressed them. Here, instead of vengeance, Jesus announces a “year of grace,” the remission of all debts, the unconditional benevolence of God to all.
 
All in the synagogue are outraged at the partisanship of his approach to the holy books. Who does he think he is? Is he not the son of Joseph, the carpenter? The contrast between the traditional mindset that expects a glorious, winner and avenger Messiah and the gracious Messiah that Jesus depicted were in conflict as predicted by Simeon: “He is a sign established for the falling and rising of many in Israel, a sign of contradiction … out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).
 
Instead of pacifying the tension Jesus heightens the tension with two proverbs: “Physician, heal yourself” and “no prophet is honored in his own country” causing a second, disappointment in his countrymen. They heard about the wonders he worked in Capernaum and they are deluded to be able to witness those miracles that would mark the beginning of the Messianic era.
 
The two proverbs are a denial of their expectations, a distancing from their beliefs, a rejection of their dreams, and a sentence on their illusions. He behaves like Elijah and Elisha who helped foreigners not just the Israelites.
 
This is just too much! The inhabitants of Nazareth understand where he’s getting to. Israel is not the only recipient of the promises made to Abraham and his descendants. They had not liked Jesus’ choice of leaving his village and moving to Capernaum, a market town full of pagans where life is not always conducted in compliance with the legal purity. Now they realize that his was not an isolated act, but a clear sign that God’s salvation has been extended to all peoples.
 
That was it, it was the outrage against opening salvation to all. We have not changed much either in our days, right?
 
 
● Father Fernando Armellini CMF
Claretian Publications
bibleclaret.org
 
Translated by Father John Ledesma SDB
Abridged by Father Jijo Kandamkulathy CMF