Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sunday word, 31 Jan 16

Beyond Familiar Folks
Fourth Sunday of the Year C (31 Jan 2016)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
A modern, Lebanese immigrated to the United States. Some service jobs and fortunate connections led him to his lifelong career: he conducted a thriving insurance business. His children grew; he hoped the eldest would shepherd the business. None of them did. From a business angle preserving the name of the company would benefit the one who would continue it. Another angle operated, too: the man’s Lebanese heritage naturally shaped his desire that a child carry on the family business.

Father and children are happy: he in retirement; they pursuing their careers. Their father illustrates something difficult for us to appreciate. Our culture expects young people to find careers which suit their talents and exceed their parents. In the Mediterranean culture honor continues to include children continuing family businesses. So it was in the time of Jesus.

Worshippers in the Nazareth synagogue knew Jesus. His fame surely made them proud. His return led them to expect that he had arrived to settle and continue his father’s craft. What they heard made them furious: he spoke more than if he had a rabbi’s expert knowledge of scriptures; he considered himself a prophet!

Their question, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” was no idle one. They saw Jesus failed to live with honor: he not only refused to continue his father’s craft; he cast himself as a prophet. He was too much for them.

Jesus inaugurated his mission at home. His choice set in motion the central dynamic of his mission: rejection. Like earlier prophets Jesus would be rejected for announcing God’s desires for humanity. Another time some who first followed him rejected him. He turned to his twelve disciples and asked if they wanted to leave him like the others?1 Honor may not be our issue as it was for those in the Nazareth synagogue. Instead our human limitations, our desire to make Jesus fit our preferences and our impatience with others especially when they intrude on our time and—God forbid!—our wallets conspire to have us quit Jesus altogether. Yet Jesus will not quit us!

Jesus is patient with us, especially when we are impatient with him. In the face of cultural honor and numerous people rejecting Jesus many disciples clung to Jesus and all he did and said. Perhaps we recognize Jesus’ patience: Jesus patiently walks with us and everyone. When Jesus rose after his final rejection on the cross he shared his Spirit with his disciples. The power of his Spirit not only let them abide with Jesus in the face of their rejection; his Spirit shaped them to grow like him: patient with everyone.

St. Paul’s familiar words describe many faces of Christian love. They also help us appreciate a very important thing about placing our lives with Jesus: Christian love begins among familiar people; Christian love finds its home beyond whom we count as familiar. Jesus named them using Isaiah’s words as his: the poor; those in any bondage and unfreedom; the oppressed; and the blind, especially in their hearts.2 Letting Jesus continue to fashion our patient love is a goal of this Year of Mercy. Those who receive mercy receive it from those whose hearts are shaped like the heart of Jesus, the face of God’s infinite mercy.3

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Rest in our triune God.
  • Ask Elijah and Elisha to present you to Jesus.
  • Open your heart to him and chat with him: praise him for dying and rising for you; recall how you receive Jesus’ patient, loving concern; then name what prevents you from living it.
  • Ask Jesus for grace to help you show others the patient, loving care you receive from him.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Slowly praying his words helps us be more receptive and honest. Praying them enriches how we are with Jesus and with others.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise
  1. John 6.67.
  2. Today’s gospel concludes the scene begun last Sunday.
  3. For a recent description of God’s mercy as “visceral” and active see paragraph 6 of Pope Francis’ announcement of the Year of Mercy.
  4. The image is that of Pope Francis, when he announced the Jubilee of Mercy.

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