Sunday Sermon for January 31, 2016, 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 Book of the Prophet Jeremiah there is a passage which the New American Bible translates: “more tortuous than all else is the human heart; beyond remedy, who can endure it?” This is the same Jeremiah whose call we hear today in the first reading. God makes clear to Jeremiah that he has to have courage and speak to the people whatever God wants to have spoken. While this specific call is particular to Jeremiah, each and every priest is entrusted with this same responsibility.
Every deacon, priest, or bishop is supposed to speak the Word of God in its fullness to the people. The importance of this task is heightened by the fact that the Word of God is not just what is written in the pages of Scripture; the Word of God is the Person of Jesus Christ. So, we essentially have a dual mandate to preach in its fullness what God has revealed in Scripture and to preach the Person of Christ in His fullness.
To do these things is a great privilege and a great responsibility. The Word of God, as we read in both Ezekiel and in Revelation, is sweet to the taste but sour in the stomach. People like the objective elements of God’s word, but they do not like it when that Word is applied subjectively. This is true of the Word of God in both of the senses just mentioned.
Look at what happened in the Gospel reading today: Jesus preaches in His home town. The people of Nazareth are “amazed at the gracious words” that came from His mouth. But when our Lord challenges the people directly, the reaction is so extreme that they want to throw Him over the cliff. One can understand that people might squirm a little or be uncomfortable when they have to look at themselves and change their lives to come into accord with the will of God, but to have such an extreme reaction that they wanted to kill our Lord seems incomprehensible.
However, it is for this same reason that God tells Jeremiah that He would make the Prophet a fortified city, a pillar of iron and a wall of brass against the people. God knew that the people would not want to hear His word, even though His words are truth, spirit, and life. As human beings we seem, for some strange reason, to be attracted to what the devil offers: lies, materialism, and death.
People do not want Jesus. They want the Jesus they have made in their own imaginations, but they do not want the real Jesus in the fullness of His Person. Just look at the thousands of people who have left the Church because they cannot or will not accept this or that teaching. They have not only rejected the teaching of the Church, but they have rejected the real Jesus. Of course, they will tell you that they still believe in God and in Jesus, but they have chosen to go where they can decide for themselves what is true and what is false rather than accepting God’s declaration of the truth.
Because of this, many priests and bishops fall into the problem of trying to appease the people. Unlike Jeremiah, they are unwilling to speak the fullness of the truth because they do not want to be rejected by the people. Look at what Jeremiah had to endure for the Word of God; look at what Jesus had to endure for the sake of the truth. It is time that we, both priests and people, need to choose the truth and accept the consequences that will follow from that choice.
It is really rather simple, but not very pleasant. The wonderful thing about the Word of God and the teachings of the Church is that they are objective. Therefore, it is not my own opinion that I should be preaching, but the objective truth. I had a Pastor who used to say “When you know you’re right, you know you can’t be wrong.” If it is my opinion versus your opinion, I might well be wrong, but if it is God’s truth, I am merely the messenger, but I have knowledge that what I am speaking is the truth.
For those who preach this truth, there are three things that must be present. First, we have to believe it is the truth, God’s truth. Second, we must apply it to ourselves before we try to apply it to others. Third, we must do everything out of love for God and love for the people. St. Paul speaks of love as being the greatest gift. If our hearts are transformed into love, then they will no longer be tortuous and the Word of God will be easily accepted and lived.
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 www.thewandererpress.com.