Sunday, January 24, 2016

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - January 31, 2016

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First Reading Commentary
Although the words used in this Reading are meant specifically for the prophet Jeremiah, one can get the sense that similar words are spoken to each and every soul created by God. 
When God says, "I knew you," these words are designed to show affection.  To be known or infinitely loved before being formed in the womb outlines God's plan for our soul's eternal destiny. 
We are advised, however, to gird our loins for a fight which means to get ready for the battle we face in this life because our privilege to call God “Father” and our discipleship of His Son may not always be well-received by our culture.  Fortunately we are promised by God that no matter what crosses we have to bear, victory will be ours because He will deliver us. 
Indeed the victory has been gained for us by Jesus Christ as the promise of resurrection and eternal joy and peace await us when the battle is finished.
Second Reading Commentary
It's best to begin by pointing out that everywhere in this Reading where the word "love" appears, the Latin Vulgate uses a word which translates as "charity" which is defined as: Love for God and love for neighbor, which, of course, are inseparable. All of the examples used in this Reading are spiritual gifts given out of love by God Almighty; therefore, without love none of these gifts would exist.  Paul's point, then, is that God is the Giver of gifts because of His love for us; hence, it is for love of God and neighbor that the recipient of such gifts is to share those gifts with God's people. 
The reference to a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal symbolizes someone who's in it for personal notoriety, since a gong or cymbal produces a loud noise which would cause others to take notice. 
The example of: "If I give away everything I own" shows that faith and charitable works go hand-in-hand.  Exactly how important is this virtue of charity or love?  Eighteenth century exegete, Dom Augustin Calmet answers with these words: "I formerly judged of the goodness and excellence of these spiritual gifts by the advantages they procured; but after the Almighty had bestowed upon me His particular Light, my opinion was far otherwise.  Prophecy and the gift of languages are certainly very estimable gifts, yet charity is much more excellent.  It is by charity we approach near to God, that we become His true Image.  Can we, then, wonder at the magnificent praises, glorious prerogatives and surprising effects Saint Paul gives to this all necessary virtue?"
In the application of this Reading in our modern times, one need not look any further than Saint John Paul II.  He exhibited before our very eyes his belief that “love never fails.”  Towards the end of his earthly journey we watched as his tongue failed, his ability to verbally communicate was “brought to nothing.”  The walls of temporality imprison us all, but the Holy Father’s mysticism was able to scales those walls just enough to be able to see partially what lies beyond; and when he breathed his last, whatever in him that was indistinct, changed to a face-to-Face encounter.  His partialness was transformed into fullness.  The Perfect came to take him home.
Gospel Commentary
Isn't this the son of Joseph. . .  Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place."  Two separate statements: the first is asked by those in the synagogue; the second is said by Jesus.  Two separate statements but both have a similar meaning.  Both make us aware that the impressions and opinions we have of others can become stalemates within our own minds; and the solution is to be open to and accept the movement of the Spirit.  Not a whole lot is known about Jesus' younger years but the question, "Isn't this the son of Joseph" would seem to suggest that those hidden years in Jesus' life were rather ordinary and there probably wasn't anything about His life that was all that noticeable. 
This Gospel begins where last week's finished with Jesus proclaiming Himself as the fulfillment of a prophecy found in Isaiah.  This is an extraordinary statement especially when it seems that all that is implied about Him is rather ordinary.  Indeed no prophet is accepted in his own native place. 
With any long-term relationship we have in our own lives, we're usually pretty confident that we know what that person is like; and what they're capable or not capable of doing.  This would be considered our ordinary perception of that person.  When that person, however, does something or becomes someone contrary to the notions and opinions we have already formed, it becomes difficult to accept or believe and the ordinary now becomes extraordinary.  There's the former juvenile delinquent who's now a police officer; or the historically struggling student who's now on the dean's list at college; and how about that former self-proclaimed agnostic who's now a cleric.  There is Saint Paul, who was a staunch enemy of Christianity who ended up becoming one of Christ's greatest disciples.  There's the virtually unknown, uneducated fisherman named Peter who ends up being the Church's first pope.  Perhaps you have done something or become someone that your family and closest friends find difficult to believe.  Sadly for some, being a devout disciple of Christ is a source of strain within their own household. 
Our own human weakness, skepticism and pride can make it difficult to accept the extraordinary or unforeseen.  Time is also an issue.  If those in the synagogue knew Jesus to be the son of Joseph, after all those years of familiarity with this seemingly ordinary Person, how could He possibly be the Messiah?  Once someone is perceived in a certain way, anything contrary to that is not easily accepted and sometimes that disbelief can  lead to disrespectful treatment of that person because of that human stubbornness that holds on to a perception. 
The ordinary expectation of the Messiah was revealed by the prophets, namely the salvation of the Jews.  The reality, however, of what has been achieved by the Redeemer is extraordinary, namely the salvation of not just the Jews, but all of God's people, past, present and future; and He gained this victory for us through suffering. 
As Jesus continues to speak, the crowd becomes furious and intends to hurl Him down and throw Him out of town but Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.  Jesus may have slipped through the crowd using ordinary means but Saint Ambrose would have us also consider that He may have escaped using extraordinary or miraculous means, such as vanishing or a sudden, unexplainable change of heart on the part of the crowd. 
In our own struggles to accept the extraordinary, the belief that Jesus dwells within us is the key to receiving the wisdom to know that through us He is capable of doing all things.