Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Francis Xavier Church, Hyannis, MA
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
February 1, 2004
Jer1:4-5,17-19; 1Cor12:31-13:13; Lk4:21-30
1) There is a shocking turnaround in today’s Gospel. The people with whom Jesus grew up were assembled in the Nazareth synagogue. After they heard him read Sacred Scripture and give a one sentence homily — “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” — St. Luke tells us that “all spoke well of him and were AMAZED at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” But that amazement soon turned into doubt and then into fury. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son,” they asked, probably thinking themselves wiser than Joseph and smarter than any of the carpenter’s supposed progeny. At the same time in their hearts, they were wanting him to put on a show, to do in his hometown the types of miracles they heard he worked in Capernaum. But they were not ready to accept him for who he was, the fulfillment in their hearing of all God had foretold through Isaiah and the prophets, and Jesus told them as much: “No prophet is accepted in his hometown.” When they heard the examples Jesus gave to back up this statement, they were “filled with rage, … got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.” In a span of a few minutes, they went from praying in the synagogue to expelling and trying to murder Jesus.
2) This wouldn’t be the last time the people turned on the Lord so quickly. About two years later in Jerusalem, the people, after having heard his tremendous preaching, after having witnessed his miracles, five days after having shouted to him with palm branches, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!,” cried out in cacophany, “Crucify Him!” and “give us, Barabbas,” a murderer and a thief. The Nazarenes tried to run him out of town. The residents of Jerusalem allowed him to drag his bloody, exhausted frame and heavy Cross outside the city gates by himself. The Nazarenes tried to toss him over the hill. The people of Jerusalem crucified him on a hill. In both circumstances, however, the question is WHY? Why would they turn on him? Why would they pass so quickly from thoughts of amazement to those of homicide?
3) The reason is because Jesus challenged them to real faith, to live according to the whole truth God had sent his prophets and finally his Son to reveal, and the people said, “no!” But Jesus spoke and acted with an authority that didn’t allow just a simple refusal. His message would reverberate in their consciences. The only way to eliminate the message was to eliminate the messenger.
4) Almost two-thousand years later, we might be tempted to think, “How could the people of Nazareth and Jerusalem be so STUPID?” “How could they be so evil as to try to kill Truth itself, Life itself, Love personified? But before we yield to that tempation, we should first ask ourselves, “Where would Jesus’ hometown be today?” Where does Jesus dwell? Where has Jesus grown up with his people? We could make a case that our Commonwealth of Massachusetts has historically been a hometown for Jesus. Fifty-percent of our residents are Catholics, who have grown up with Jesus since their baptism. The vast majority of the other 50% are our Protestant brothers and sisters, who, like us, have grown up and around the Lord. This is a state where Christ and his message should be welcome, but it’s one where Christ and his message have been getting increasingly expelled.
a) Earlier this month, the last vestige of our “Blue Laws,” created in order to allow us to worship God fully and not have to work on the Lord’s day, was expunged, as now even liquor stores are open for business on Sunday. Many Catholics — especially younger teenagers — now must now make a choice between worshiping the Lord on the Lord’s day or keeping a job, and many choose the latter. Many others, sadly, spend more time shopping on Sunday than they do praying.
b) Massachusetts should be a place in which Jesus’ words, “whoever receives a little child in my name, receives me,” should be widely put into action, but, sadly, it has one of the highest per capita abortion rates in the US. Christ said, “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me,” and about every 20 seconds in our state, Christ will be put to death in the person of one of his smallest brothers and sisters in the womb.
c) Now our Commonwealth faces the fact that some are trying to run Christ and his teaching on marriage out of our state. It started when four justices of the Supreme Judicial Court took it upon themselves to try to toss out thousands of years of tradition and human wisdom by saying that marriage, incredibly, has nothing to do essentially with the union of a man and a woman. All of us face now the decision about whether we’re going to allow these justices to get away with it. Now is the time when the 90+ percent of Christian residents of our state need to ask whether they’ll allow Jesus and his teachings to be cast outside state boundaries or whether they’ll stand up in defense of Christ and his truth.
5) Christ’s teaching on marriage is very clear. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it is worth repeating until every last Christian understands its implications. He who is the Truth and cannot lie told us clearly what marriage is. He who created us IN love FOR love knows what will lead to love and what will not and we need to heed his voice. When he was asked by a lawyer what true marriage was, Jesus said, “In the beginning, God ‘made them MALE AND FEMALE.’ … ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his WIFE, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mt 19:4-6). We can see at least four things very relevant to our debate over marriage and why two men and two women cannot be joined in marriage:
a) God made us male and female (and not male and male). Since God does not do anything by chance, there is great meaning to our masculinity and femininity. To ignore it is to ignore who we are.
b) God’s plan is not that a man leave his parents and cling to whomever he wishes, but to a wife.
c) In marriage, two people are meant by God to become one flesh. This points to a reality that goes beyond the short-lived physical union of bodies that occurs in the act of making love. It is geared toward a perduring union that occurs when man and woman, through making love, actually procreate a child who is the lasting marriage or union of the flesh. It is obvious that man and man, and woman and woman, cannot become one flesh in this way.
d) Finally, man must not divide what God has joined. God has joined man and woman in marriage and when we try to put that asunder, we will do so at our own and all of society’s expense.
6) Faced with the Lord’s teaching, each and every Christian in our state has a choice to make: Are we going to let Christ and his teaching be run out of town, out of our common-wealth (for marriage is a true common treasure of our state), or are we going to take Him and his message into the city squares, into the newspapers, onto Beacon Hill? What God wants from us, I think, should be pretty clear. He wants us to be His voice, to pass own his words. In the first reading, we see that the Lord consecrated Jeremiah from his mother’s womb to be a prophet to the nations. When he was still a young boy of about 20, the Lord sent him out with his message: “Gird your loins; stand up and tell them everything that I command you.” No matter how old we are the Lord reminds us that from our rebirth in the womb of the Church (the baptismal font), He has consecrated us with a mission, to be his witnesses, his messengers, in the world. On the day of our baptism, the priest or deacon blessed our ears and our mouths and said, “Be opened! The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.” He opened our mouths so that we would speak his word. He knew from all eternity that we would be alive at this time and in this state and he says to us, just like he said to Jeremiah, “Get your clothes on; stand up and tell them everything I command you.” We may be scared before the task; Jeremiah certainly was. But the Lord said to him, “I for my part have made you today a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall…. They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you.” The same Lord who strengthened Jeremiah will strengthen us. The same Lord who was with him will be with you and with me.
7) In order for us to do this as the Lord wants us to do, we have to undertand first WHY he sent Jeremiah with his message to the people of Jerusalem, even though Jeremiah would suffer so much for doing us. Why did He send his Son to be rejected by his creatures, run out of town and killed? The reason is because God LOVED US and knew that without his truth, we were gonners. Before Pontius Pilate, Jesus said, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world: to testify to the truth.” Truth and love go together. Jesus taught us the truth about real love during the Last Supper and then put it into action supremely the next afternoon: “No one has greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). The Son of God made man loved us enough that he was willing to die so that we might come to LIVE IN THE TRUTH and be set free to love others as he loved us. Real love, as Jesus shows us, is a GIFT OF SELF for others, a willingness to sacrifice for the good of another, even to the point of death.
8 ) This is the type of love St. Paul wrote about so beautifully to the Corinthians in today’s second reading. He said that if he was able to speak in the tongues of angels, but didn’t have that type of love, he was nothing more than a noisy gong. If he had the powers of prophecy — and he did! — but didn’t have love, he was NOTHING. If he had the faith to move mountains — and he had great faith, such that he was able to work tremendous miracles — but didn’t have love, he was nada, niente, rien, zero. If he gave away all his possessions and handed his body over to the torturers — and he did, several times — but didn’t have love, he would gain NOTHING. His point is clear. In order for us to be SOMETHING, we need to have Jesus’ type of love. Without it, we are nothing and have nothing, even if we are as rich as Bill Gates, as popular as Bill Cosby, as charming as Bill Clinton, and as respected as Bill Belichick. In the final analysis, before God, all of those things and traits are worth nothing if we don’t have real love.
9) The crucial question is how do we enter into and live this type of real love, revealed by Christ and experienced and praised by St. Paul? It starts by allowing ourselves to be fully loved by God. “In this is love,” St. John writes, “not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1John 4:10). It starts by allowing Christ to take away our sins and to “live on in his love,” which Jesus says we will do “if we keep [his] commandments” (Jn 15:9-10). And the most comprehensive and challenging commandment Jesus gave us is “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12). He wants us to give of ourselves, to lay down our lives, for the good of others, to bring them to the Truth, to do whatever we can to bring them to the Savior who is love personified. We’re called to live this love with those in our family, with those with whom we work or go to school, with all those with whom we come into regular contact. But we’re also called to live it with respect to the pressing issue at hand concerning the possibility of gay “marriage” in our state. If Christ were here today and were to translate for us how his love needs to be shown during this crucial moment in the history of our Commonwealth, what would he say? How would he love, and therefore want us to love?
10) The first thing the Lord would doubtless say is that he died out of love for those with same-sex attractions and loves them still. He would remind us that any violence or hatred toward them would be directed personally against Him, “for as often as you did it to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.” He would remind us that we are called to love our gay brothers and sisters, but add that this true love is concerned above all with their SALVATION. Jesus says that love is not TOLERANCE of evil, but in fact is the opposite. He calls us to love those with same-sex attractions, but to HATE whatever could harm them in this life and in the next. And “gay marriage” or even “civil unions” WILL HARM them, because it will institutionalize and attempt to stabilize a relationship built around sexual activity that revelation has always condemned as sinful, because it is not in accord with the way God made us and his gift of sexuality from the beginning. Christ would call us to hate homosexual sexual activity because, as his Church has always taught, if it is participated in with knowledge and deliberate consent, it is a mortal sin and those who commit it and fail to repent of it and receive God’s forgiveness will go to Hell. (Christ’s teaching through the Church has never changed in this regard, even if some preachers, for whatever reason, have stopped talking about it.) If we truly love someone, we would never easily tolerate their engaging in behavior that would lead them away from God in this life and in the next. The same thing goes for individual gay men and women. It is possible for them to love each other, but such love, if it is real, must be concerned with what is best for the one they love. The absolutely worst thing they could do for one they love is to participate in sin with that person. The best thing they could do for one they love is to help that person come to the Lord, to live according to his truth, to base their lives and their relationship entirely on what he taught and continues to teach through the Church he founded. Real love for another means even a willingness to sacrifice one’s own relationship with a person, if that relationship would harm another’s relationship with God. Anything short of this is not real love.
11) Real love, as St. Paul tells us in the second reading, “does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.” We should be PROUD of the truth Christ entrusted to us about marriage and rejoice in it. It is one of the greatest blessings God has given us. But this gift has a clear structure, one with which God created it “in the beginning” from the first man and first woman, and God calls on us to rejoice in that gift and defend it. All of us are faced with a choice, much like the choice that faced the those in ancient Nazareth and Jerusalem. If we wouldn’t have stood by when the Nazarenes were trying to toss Jesus out of the synagogue and over the cliff to his death, then we shouldn’t remain silent now. If we would not have been paralyzed when the mob in Jerusalem was shouting “Crucify Him!” and “Give us Barabbas!,” then we should use the voices he gave us to speak in defense of Him and the truth of what He revealed to us about marriage now. Jesus came to live, to die and to rise again in witness to the truth. Jeremiah dedicated his life in witness to the truth God had revealed to him. St. Paul did the same. Now it’s our turn. The Lord has called each of us and consecrated each of us for this mission, one in which he will be with us, just like he was Paul and Jeremiah. The question for us is whether we love him enough and love others enough to get involved. Even if we have everything else in the world, if we don’t love Christ and love like Christ, in the circumstances he has given us, we have and are nothing. As we prepare to receive Love Incarnate in the Eucharist, in which Jesus says to us, “This is my body given for you,” we beg Him to give us all the help He knows we need so that we may say in return, out of love for Him and for others here in our state, “This is MY body, this is my life, given for YOU!”