Sunday Sermon for February 3, 2013, the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary time, Year C

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

In the first reading today we hear about the call of Jeremiah to be a Prophet of the Lord. In this context the Lord also warns Jeremiah of the suffering that will be coming to him. For this reason the Lord says that He made Jeremiah a fortified city, a pillar of iron and a wall of brass to stand up against the attacks that will come his way. The Lord even lets him know just how bad things will be when he says “as though I would leave you crushed before them.”

Anyone who has read the Book of Jeremiah knows the tremendous sufferings the prophet endured. Yet even though the people fought against him and wanted to kill him, his call was still to preach the word of God to the people. This is the true call of the prophet. People often think that being a prophet means predicting the future. Sometimes this is part of what God will do with His prophets, but their main function is to tell the people God’s will for them. Needless to say, this can be very difficult. The Lord even told Jeremiah that the people would not listen to him, but he needed to preach the word anyway.

More than this, at one point God would not allow Jeremiah to preach because the Prophet’s frustration level reached the point where he was lashing out and speaking out of his frustration rather than preaching what God wanted spoken. We can certainly understand how this can happen, but the Lord told him that he could preach only when he learned to bring forth the precious without the vile. We all know how hard it is to remain charitable when everything seems to go wrong and everyone seems to be in opposing us. But this is what God required and, through his sufferings Jeremiah was not only tempered, but he learned to love the people.

This all becomes very important because in the Gospel of St. Matthew, when Jesus asks his disciples who people say that He is, they answer that some say He is John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. The mention of each of these names requires that we consider the life and the work of each of these people, but the mention of Jeremiah’s name is intriguing. John the baptist was recent and still on the minds of the people; Elijah was the first and the greatest of all of the Prophets. But to single out Jeremiah from the rest of the Prophets forces one to take notice.

Like Jeremiah our Lord did suffer a lot of rejection from the people. Still, as we hear in the Gospel, even though the people wanted to kill Him, they spoke highly of Him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from His mouth. Clearly, He spoke the precious without the vile. People could not reject the message on account of the Messenger in this case; instead, they simply rejected the truth. It is a human tendency to reject what someone tells us and justify it by pointing out some fault in the person, this is especially true if the person comes across as being angry or nasty.

Jesus lived and provided the example of what it means to love for the Saints who would follow Him. St. Paul had to learn this lesson which was undoubtedly very difficult for a man with his personality. After learning it, however, he was able to pass it along for the rest of us. He tells us in the second reading that of all the gifts one can receive from God, the greatest and the only one that will remain, is love. St. Paul was a very gifted man, but he came to see everything as rubbish compared to love. He understood that no other gift, talent or ability really mattered if they were not employed in love and that he would gladly forgo everything else as long as he would have the ability to love.

It is easy for any of us to get caught up in the external things and even easier for us to fall prey to anything that inflates our ego. Love requires that we look beyond the externals and beyond ourselves to seek only the good of others. We need to learn to keep our focus on God rather than on ourselves. When we can do this, we begin to see everything as being part of God’s loving providence for us, then we do not get angry when things do not go our way or when people oppose us. Instead, we will be able to love them and lead them to what they really need, to that which is truly precious and without anything vile: Jesus.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit