The National Catholic Review
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C), Jan. 31, 2010
“Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum” (Lk 4:23 )

Some people know what they want to be when they grow up from the time they are very young. Others discover their vocation as young adults. Still others never seem to find their real mission in life. Jeremiah apparently knew as a very young man what were God’s designs for him. Not only does Jeremiah perceive his calling very early, but he understands that it is not something he dreamed up on his own. Rather, it was God who appointed him as prophet before he was even formed in his mother’s womb. Similarly, Luke began his account with the annunciation to Jesus’ mother of her child’s prophetic mission even before he is conceived in her womb.

One can always resist such a calling, especially since prophets always experience suffering in carrying out their mission. People who are lifted up by the prophet’s liberating words react with enthusiastic welcome. But for those whose power, privilege or status is threatened by the prophet’s challenges to live justly, the reaction can become even murderous. To Jeremiah God gives assurance of divine strength to withstand whatever opposition he experiences. Similarly, when the crowd in Nazareth turns on Jesus, he is given the strength to pass unharmed through their midst.

Today’s Gospel picks up from last Sunday’s, in which Jesus first announced his mission to reveal God’s liberating and re-creating Spirit through the healing and freeing of any who were bound. Jesus’ neighbors and friends are familiar with the passage from Isaiah that he quotes. At first they marvel when he says that it is fulfilled in their hearing. Jesus, as if reading their thoughts, exposes what is on their minds: “Let’s see what you can do.” These thoughts seem very close to what the devil says to Jesus in the previous Gospel episode. They want him to do a flashy miracle to show off his powers to cure. Instead, Jesus retells stories with which they are well acquainted, stories about earlier prophets who used their healing powers to cure foreign outsiders.

What kind of response is that? One of the implications of Jesus’ answer is that the mission he has embraced is, in some ways, not a new one. God’s healing Spirit has been revealing the divine intent to heal, restore and bring all inside into God’s loving embrace, even beyond the reach of those to whom God has revealed the law. What is new is the way the Spirit is now embodied in Jesus to bring this revelation to completion.

What Jesus’ audience may not have liked is that he is also inviting them to participate in this same saving mission. Jesus’ powerful words and deeds are not just something to watch and by which to be impressed. Rather, his mission of jubilee justice is to be taken up and continued by all who hear. Thus it is fulfilled today in our hearing.

Barbara E. Reid, O.P., a member of the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids, Mich., is a professor of New Testament studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Ill., where she is vice president and academic dean.

Readings: Jer 1:4-5; 17-19; Ps 71:1-17; 1 Cor 12:31–13:13; Lk 4:21-30

• Pray with gratitude for having been called to mission, at whatever stage of your life you accepted it.

• How does the sense of being called by God fortify your for the difficulties involved in following Jesus?

Recently by Barbara E. Reid

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