31 January 2016

Homily - 31 January 2016 - Why did their hearts change so drastically in so little time?

The Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today, we find the Lord Jesus back home, as it were, in Nazareth. After being tempted in the desert, he returned to those who presumably heard his first words and watched him take his first steps, who taught him how to skip a rock and how to cook a fish, who watched him learn the skill of Saint Joseph, his foster father (cf. Luke 4:1-13). They watched him advance in “wisdom and age before God and man” and saw that that “the favor of God was upon him” (cf. Luke 2:52, 40). They watched him play and they watched him pray, and now he returned to them to teach in their synagogues and “to announce glad tidings to the poor” (cf. Luke 4:15 and 16; Luke 4:18; cf. Isaiah 61:1).

In those days, Nazareth was just a tiny hamlet, at best, consisting of a few large, extended families. The childhood home of Mary was barely a stone’s throw away from that of Joseph. Nazareth was such a small place that those who were not related to you by blood or by marriage might as well have been because of how closely everyone surely lived among each other.

At first, those who heard Jesus make a rather staggering claim – “Today, this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21) – “were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth” (Luke 4:22). Who can blame them? It was as if the great prayer of the Psalmist was at last being answered in their presence and through one of their own: “O my God, rescue me from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 71:4)! Did they make these words of the same Psalmist their own, as well: “My mouth shall declare your justice, day by day your salvation” (Psalm 71:15)? It might have seemed as if the Lord were making of Nazareth “a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass,” against which their enemies would not prevail (Jeremiah1:18; cf. Jeremiah 1:19).

How is it, then, that those who first “spoke highly of him” so quickly moved “to hurl him down headlong” over the cliff of Nazareth (Luke 4:22, 29)? What caused their hearts to change so drastically in so little time? Why had Jesus offended them so deeply?

The words he said to them today are words that we might find a bit confusing, but they – with their love and knowledge of the Old Testament – would have immediately recognized his meaning; they would have known that he named them unfaithful and acknowledged them as sinners. He said nothing that was false, but they did not want to hear the truth. His own family wanted to kill him because he pointed out their sin, because he called them to repentance; they wanted to kill him because his judgment – given in love – was just and because he called them to a life of sincere love. Are we all that different today?

How many people today speak highly of the Lord Jesus when they hear him say, “Stop judging, that you may not be judged,” but seek to cast him out of their lives when they hear him say, “whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father” (Matthew 7:1; 10:33)? How many people today are amazed at his gracious words when he says, “Let the children come to me,” but obstinately close their ears when he says, “everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and the one who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery” (Matthew 19:14; Luke 16:18)? These are just two examples of his words that people commonly reject today, all the while claiming to love him. Their love, though, is false, because their supposed love does not rejoice with the truth but seeks instead to evade it (cf. I Corinthians 13:6).

Because Jesus is “the way and the truth and the life,” he cannot deceive us and he cannot be deceived by us; he cannot lie to us or tell us a falsehood (John 14:6). We know that Jesus loves us because everything he said and everything he did, he did for our good, for our salvation. If we consider all of the things that Saint Paul says about love today, we see that love is not a sentiment or an emotion; these come and go and we do not always have control over them. Rather, the Apostle tells us what love does and what love does not do. Love, then, is not an emotion, but a choice; it is a desire for the good of the one we love, accompanied by actions and choices to attain that good, even at our own expense. Jesus paid the ultimate expense to bring about our good: he willingly gave his life for us on the Cross so that our sins might be forgiven. He allowed his heart to be pierced for us so that he – and not ourselves – might be a rock of refuge for us, a stronghold to give us safety from the storms of life and the enticements of the devil and his servants(cf. Psalm 71:3).

If we wish to love Jesus and to love our neighbor – if we wish to attain salvation – we must drink anew from the source of love: we must drink daily from the water that flows from the pierced side of Christ (cf. John 19:34). This is why Saint Marianne Cope tells us to “creep into the heart of Jesus.”

She tells us to creep because entering into the doorway of his heart is not easy because the door to his heart is narrow and he tells us that “many … will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough” (Luke 13:24). They will not be strong enough because they will attempt to enter the door to his heart through their own strength, claiming the power to declare right and wrong for themselves in opposition to what he says, all the while living in unconfessed – and therefore unforgiven – sin. But those who listen to Jesus point out their sins to them - who listen to his true judgment and do not reject it, but confess their sins - these will have the strength to enter into his loving and merciful heart because they will walk in his own strength. These – the honest and the humble – are those to whom the Lord will always incline his ear; he will rescue them and deliver them because they strive eagerly after the greatest spiritual gifts, because they strive after love (cf. Psalm 71:2; I Corinthians 12:31).

Already, even now, the Lord Jesus stands at the door of our hearts, knocking on them and asking our permission to enter (cf. Revelation 3:20). Just as he did not force himself into the hearts of those at Nazareth, neither will he force his way into our hearts today. If we acknowledge his voice of truth and seek to live according to it, he will enter into our hearts; if not, he will pass through our midst to knock on other hearts (cf. Luke 4:30).

Let us not refuse him entry! Let us not ignore the truth of his words, hard as they might be! Let us open the doors of our hearts to him, that our hearts might be filled with the gladness of his tidings and that his freedom might be ours. That our hearts and his heart may be one. Amen.

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