Fourth Sunday of the Year. Fr David McLean argues that Jesus is rejected by his own village because he challenged self-centered understandings of the good in preaching the justice of God.
‘No prophet is ever accepted in his own country’ is a quote from the bible that most people know. Some people probably use it without realising that it comes from the bible. It is quote that can be understood solely in terms of the human realm, but greater significance is realised with an appreciation of the divine realm.
In the world today, individuals are much more mobile than in the past. They are much less likely to grow up and live out their lives in the community in which they were born. There is still a tendency, however, for those left behind, not to like it. People who are good at something, often find that they can only obtain suitable employment, or at least well paid employment, far from home. And such people are often not very popular with some at home.
I can even humbly cite myself as an example. My home village no longer has a resident priest. So when I go home, I detect a feeling from some, that I should stay at home and be the priest for my home parish. There is no point telling people that even if I did work for my home diocese, which I don’t, that the last place the Archbishop would send me is to my home village.
So, in today’s gospel reading, is Jesus simply receiving this kind of reception from his home town? He has been off in foreign parts preaching and carrying out miracles, while people in his own town have been left suffering. If Jesus is receiving such a reaction from his own town, then it is rather an extreme example. They take him up a nearby hill and try to throw him off a cliff.
Perhaps the strong reaction to Jesus reflects that his challenge is far more significant, in fact, has divine significance. Human jealousy of human success and knowledge would be one thing, but Jesus actually has knowledge of the divine. Jesus uses his appreciation of divine justice to challenge human injustice in fundamental terms. Jesus challenges his detractors in human terms, but perhaps it is a sense that his authority is divine that is really irksome.
Jesus turns around and challenges the very idea that he should be expected to stay at home. When the people in the gospel say ‘This is Joseph’s son, surely?’ they are perhaps hinting that he should stay with his family. But Jesus doesn’t ignore this, instead he puts words into their mouths to express their true feeling, that what they really think is that what he did in Capernaum, curing the human condition through divine authority, he should be doing there.
He goes on to tell them that he won’t do it. He tells how the prophets Elijah and Elisha ignored their own people and helped foreigners instead. He tells them bluntly that he will help all of humankind, even at the expense of his own people’s perceived needs, and ultimately, at his own expense: when he gave himself up and died on the cross. It is perhaps then that the people wanted to kill him, when he exposed their base selfish human desires, and then so bluntly denied them.
What Jesus directly challenges, is the misdirected human instinct for survival at all costs; the survival of the individual, and then the survival of those immediately around us, or even just self-betterment, at the expense of everyone else. It is an instinct that is responsible for many injustices in the world: the developed world’s less than impressive assistance to the developing world. Apartheid, nationalism, fascism, racism, tribalism, nepotism, and elitism all fall into this category.
Jesus challenges all that. Justice has to apply to all humanity equally and it has to be completely fulfilled: only then is it divine justice. Justice, the basic justice that one human being or group of human beings, owes to any other individual or group, knows of no boundaries between individuals, regions or nations. The worst thing you can do is deny someone justice, because ultimately that may mean denying them the food they need to live, and the spiritual food you and they need for human fulfilment: divine justice.
Readings: Jeremiah 1:4-5,17-19 | 1 Corintians 12:31-13:13 | Luke 4:21-30
The image above is of an early Christian sarcophagus in Sant’ Apollinare in Classe.