Not accepted in his own country

Not accepted in his own country

Fourth Sunday of the Year. Fr John Patrick Kenrick preaches on the response to Jesus’ words in the synagogue at Nazareth.

Today’s readings appear to juxtapose two ways of human relating, two ways in which human bonds are formed. There are the accidental ties with others who happen to come from your own town or village. There is also the bond that comes from serving the same God in a spirit of true love, the kind of love so eloquently described by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians.

This passage from Corinthians forms a sort of prologue to the Gospel in which, by contrast, Jesus’ fellow Nazarenes are shown as intemperate and hostile to his words. Paul reminds us that an authentic love is one capable of satisfying the demands of more prosaic-sounding virtues.

Love is patient and kind. It is never jealous, boastful or conceited, never rude or selfish, it does not take offence and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins. Love delights in the truth, is always ready to excuse, trust and hope and to endure whatever comes.

It is sometimes tempting to think that charity begins at home, and that this is where we are most likely to be perfect in our loving. But is that so? In fact we are probably just as impatient, unkind, jealous, boastful, rude, selfish, and resentful at home as anywhere else and just as likely to take pleasure in the sins of our friends and relations as anyone else.

The Gospel today is chiefly concerned with something that comes near the end of Paul’s list. Love, he tells us, delights in the truth. One might expect Jesus’ return to Nazareth to be a triumphant celebration. And first indications seem to confirm this for he has the approval of all and they marvel at his gracious words.

But words of truth can sometimes be uncomfortable words. Jesus is not prepared to become a local hero with all the compromise that would entail. He is not interested in courting popularity and is certainly not going to buy the admiration of his neighbours by performing miracles to order.

His neighbours cannot understand this attitude. Behind their apparent willingness to celebrate the return of the native there is a vicious conceit. Who does he think he is, this son of Joseph? The Nazarenes want to be impressed but they do not have the kind of faith in the Son of Man that has produced miracles in other towns.

Jesus sees that he will be rejected like the prophets of old. The Nazarenes think that charity should begin at home but Jesus has in mind another proverb. They think they know all about him and this familiarity has bred an underlying contempt for the message he preaches. He seems to be implying that just as Elijah and Elisha worked miracles for complete strangers, so too he will be more fruitful in his ministry away from home.

Naturally enough his neighbours are enraged but the level of their anger surely comes as a shock for they are even willing to kill the man of whom just a moment ago they had such great expectations. The drama is like a hint of the passion to come. But this is not yet Calvary and Jesus slips away in a manner quite mysterious.

Some people leave their home town or village because there are bigger opportunities elsewhere. But there are some too who leave for more negative reasons. They are not understood or are disliked. Perhaps they feel that they will never be taken seriously. Perhaps they have somehow offended their neighbours and they feel this will always be held against them.

The Gospel today is warning us not to place too much trust in those crude tribal ties of fellowship that come from living in a particular place and sharing a particular way of life. Genuine friendship demands the kind of love of which St Paul speaks, one that is not prepared to compromise the truth.

Jesus is not afraid to go home but he’s also not afraid to leave again. Speaking the truth is not always easy. It can be particularly difficult to speak the truth to one’s friends or family. But there is no true friendship without it.

Readings: Jer 1:4-5,17-19 | 1 Cor 12:31-13:13 | Luke 4:21-30

fr. John Patrick Kenrick is Prior and Parish Priest at Holy Cross, Leicester.