Fourth Sunday Ordinary Time
Today’s readings show us what it is like to be a prophet. As Jeremiah recounts his call, God warns him that he will need strength and perseverance to withstand the hostility he will face from “Judah’s kings and princes” and “its priests and people” (Jeremiah 1:18b). God also assures him that they “will not prevail over you, for I am with you” (1:19). The psalm reflects both of these struggles as well as deliverance from them (“salvation”).
This is exactly what Jesus experiences in today’s Gospel. After he claims that his own mission is the same as what Isaiah proclaimed, at first the people marvel at his “gracious words” (Luke 4:22). Soon, however, they become suspicious, skeptical, and hostile, even threatening to kill him. But just as God promised to deliver Jeremiah, so Jesus “passed through the midst of them and went away” (4:30).
Hearing Jesus as Prophet
After Jesus reads from the book of Isaiah of an ancient prophet’s mission, he says, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). Jesus is making a quite remarkable claim, that he sees himself as a prophet like the great prophets in Jewish history, and that his mission like the one described by that ancient prophet in Isaiah chapter 61. Luke makes it very clear that this happened in “Nazareth, where he had grown up” (4:14), and where his fellow Nazarenes were quite startled at his words.
The Difficulty of Being—and Hearing—a Prophet
Claiming to be a prophet means claiming to be called by God; it is an awesome responsibility to say, “The word of the Lord came to me” (Jeremiah 1:4) or “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me” (Isaiah 61:1), the saying that Jesus adopted. Nor is it easy for others to hear someone make this claim. Prophets look very ordinary, they don’t have physical evidence of a divine call, so it is tempting to respond with, “Who are they, to talk like that?”
The difference is that prophets have learned to see the world as God sees it, and their vocation is to summon people to bring God’s justice and God’s mercy to that world. This is a difficult, even dangerous task. After all, prophets have to speak truth to power, to the “kings and princes . . . its priests and people” who resist changing their ways. Jeremiah’s call is typical: God warns him of dangers to come, even as he promises him deliverance: “They will fight against you but not prevail over you / for I am with you to deliver you” (Jeremiah 1:19).
Jesus faces these same difficulties, as his fellow Nazarenes—who initially admired his “gracious words” (Luke 4:22)—become skeptical, suspicious, and then openly hostile. Jesus understands these reactions: “Doubtless you will say to me . . .” (4:23), and, just as God promised Jeremiah, Jesus is “delivered”—he passes through the crowd before they attempt literally to throw him out. As we are called to act as prophets in our world today, it is a comfort to know that God will likewise deliver us.
Today’s Readings: Jer 1:4–5, 17–19; Ps 71:1–2, 3–4, 5–6, 15–17; 1Cor 12:31 — 13:13 [13:4–13]; Lk 4:21–30
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