Sunday 3rd February 2013

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C Lectio divina on Lk 4,21-30

This Gospel passage is a continuation of last Sunday’s. It records the first time Jesus preached in the synagogue at Nazareth. In the presence of his fellow townsmen, during their weekly prayer assembly, Jesus was keen to present himself as the one who fulfils the Scripture passage that he had just taught, the one who received a unique gift of grace. He was the one who satisfied all the hope of salvation on which God’s chosen people had been nourished from time immemorial. The reaction of his listeners was completely understandable. They asked themselves if they could believe what they heard from one of themselves, whom they knew well, a son of the people like so many others, the son of Joseph, who now dared to present himself as the one who fulfilled God’s promise.

If he did not work one of his wonders in their presence, as it was rumoured he had done in other parts of Galilee, it would be very difficult for them to believe him.

Jesus had lived in their midst for a long time with no sign of his miraculous power, and without revealing any awareness that he was the Son of God. Surprisingly, Jesus denied his own people what he had granted to strangers. He refused to give them signs that might have given credibility to his words and won him acceptance. Jesus worked no miracle among his own people, because they did not believe in his words.

At that time: 21 Jesus began to say in the synagogue, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 And all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth; and they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, `Physician, heal yourself; what we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here also in your own country.'” 24 And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country. 25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; 26 and 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 the prophet Elisha; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong. 30 But passing through the midst of them he went away.

 

I. Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it

The text seems genuine, especially if we consider its immediate context. Basing himself on Scripture, Jesus declares that he is the one who fulfils the divine promises. He not only reads and explains the Scriptures – he fulfils them! He reacts strongly to a reasonable objection from his fellow townspeople.

The structure of the episode is clear enough, but the line of argument is not very logical. It passes from the proclamation made by Jesus to a question about his family of origin (Lk.4,22). What they know about him leads them to doubt what he says. The admiration caused by his words makes their incredulity all the greater. Jesus interprets their question as a concealed request for a miracle of the kind expected from a prophet. It is not the first time that God has done this to his people. Elijah and Elisha were sent to those who least expected them and least deserved them (Lk 4,24-17). His words provoked an unexpected response. The townspeople went from admiration to an attempt on his life (Lk 4,29). It is tragic to note that those who were best prepared to receive Jesus lost their chance, lost Jesus, and they themselves were lost.

It could happen that Christians today act in the same way and suffer the same fate. If we require proof before we accept Jesus, or if we believe we know all about him because he is already familiar to us, we run the risk of losing him. Anyone who puts conditions on Jesus, places himself beyond his promises. The people who think they know all about him will not witness miracles.

II. Meditation: apply what the text says to life

Jesus presents himself to his townspeople as the one who fulfils the promises of God. This seemingly exaggerated claim leads to a predictable reaction. Few of them believe him, simply because he is one of themselves. They do not refuse totally to accept him, but they demand proof. They want to see a sign, a miracle like those he was said to have worked among other people who did not know him so well. When you think about it, they seem to have good reason. He had lived a long time among them without giving any indication of his power to work miracles. He had done nothing to reveal his nature as the Son of God. By reminding them of the mission of two great prophets among the pagans, Jesus was warning them that they might lose the opportunity of believing in him and finding salvation in him. The Christians of today are given the same warning.

Jesus’ way of behaving is rather strange! He demands more of the people who know him than of strangers. He expects less of those who are far away than he does of the people who are near. This may seem surprising, but there is hidden here one of the laws of the way God deals with us. Like the fellow citizens of Jesus, Christians think they know God too well. Because we think we know beforehand what God can do for us, we remain limited in our expectations of him.

We take for granted the things we hope for from God since we have known him always, and this makes it impossible for us to believe in what he promises. Our knowledge of God is limited. He is not at our service as much as we may think or wish, and we do not allow him to be what he wants to be for us. We do not allow him to do what he wants to do in us, simply because we do not allow him to surprise us with his promises. We deny him the right to let us discover today something new that we were incapable of imagining yesterday.

Our faith life becomes boring and lacking in motivation. We have become used to a God who no longer surprises us … because we know him too well. We do not dare to think that God will satisfy our deepest desires, and so we are convinced that it is not worthwhile nurturing them. We take it for granted that, as far as faith is concerned, tomorrow will be the same as today. We are convinced that the future that awaits us will not be very different from the past we have known.

We do not seem to realize that by thinking we already know God, we miss out on the chance to get to know him truly. His townspeople lost their opportunity, because they thought they already knew him well.

We run the same risk when we get too accustomed to God, and he becomes so familiar that we are unable to believe in his promises. Up to now, we have not been able to enjoy to the full all he has promised, but this is a reason to hope still that his promises will be fulfilled.

Maybe we think we have not received from God all we had hoped for, or that, somehow, he has not been as good to us as we expected. If so, let this be one more motive to pray and to live in hope. As with the people of Nazareth, our knowledge of Jesus and our belief that he is one of us, hinders us from getting to know him better as the God who wants to be with us. And like them, we also ask for extraordinary signs to make it easier for us to believe.

We have known him from our infancy and have come to regard him as a familiar friend. We may think it unfair that he does not work miracles for us, like the miracles he works for others who do not know him as well as we do. We fail to realize that asking God for miracles is a sign that we doubt him. If we want proof in order to believe, it means we do not trust what he says. Trusting in him alone means recognising that he is always extraordinary, even in the most ordinary things.

Like the fellow citizens of Jesus long ago, we may lose the best of what God wants to give us. We think we know God well, and we ask him for what we think is good for us. The truth is that he wants to give us something far better. He knows what is best for us. Asking God for a sign is asking him to identify himself, and to impose himself on us as our God. This is the best way to lose him. The people of Nazareth asked for proof, and they missed out on the salvation Jesus was offering.

We have to accept God for what he is and what he wants to be for us – not for what we want him to be or what we want him to do for us.

One way to lose God is to accept him only for what he does for us. We must accept God in our lives as he is and as he wants to be for us – not because of what we hope for or the way we would like him to act towards us.

The people who knew him best, who came from the same town, were incapable of recognising him as their Saviour. They even tried to get rid of him. He was one of themselves and they had no need of him. They felt they were being denied the wonders Jesus had done in other places. This was a tragedy, and it is a serious warning for us today. The temptation to get rid of Jesus may also enter our hearts when we think we already know all about the God we believe in, and we are afraid that he might surprise us with new demands or new gifts.

The temptation to think we can do without God comes when we start to think that he is withholding from us the proofs of his love. We compare ourselves with others of lesser faith and we feel overlooked and become disillusioned. Do we not, at times ask ourselves, what is the point of remaining faithful to a God who never gives us clear proof of his love? Does it not sometimes seem to us that God pays more attention and grants more favours to those who are far removed from him? Like the people of Nazareth, we try in vain to get rid of a God who does not bend to our will, who does not give the proof of his love that we hope for, who does not serve us as we would like. That kind of God is no use to us.

Unfortunately, we forget that it is a waste of time trying to get rid of God. God will do as Jesus did on the brow of the hill and simply walk away from us.

If we do not accept God as he wants to be for us, we will lose him forever. God will always be the kind of God he wants to be. Let’s not deceive ourselves! If we think we already know God, we will not draw close to him. We should not ignore what he demands of us, nor should we ask for signs that he does not want to give. In this way, we can be sure that we will not lose him as his townspeople did. The worst thing that could befall us would be to exclude God from our lives because he does not serve us in the way we want.