Let Jesus be Jesus!

Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

In last Sunday's gospel reading, we saw Jesus at his “inaugural address” taking upon Himself Isaiah's promise of liberation for the little ones — the poor, the captives, the oppressed and the physically disabled. Now let us focus on the reaction of His listeners, his townmates (Lk.4:21-30). Initially, “all spoke highly of him.” But after His words had sank in and realizing what He claimed Himself to be, they derisively asked, “Isn't this the son of Joseph?,” implying that Jesus could not be better than them! They then turned their attention away from what He claimed was His mission to that of pedigree and social status.

In desperation, Jesus said, “No prophet is accepted in his own native place.” Then He talked about what some prophets did in the Old Testament. He cited Elijah who ministered to a Gentile widow while Israel was experiencing hunger because of a drought and Elisha who cured a pagan of his leprosy when there were so many Jews with the same disease. With this, Jesus implied that He was reaching out to all who claimed a relationship to Him — whether Jews or Gentiles.

This went against the grain of Jewish belief. For were they not God's Chosen People after all? Thus their initial reaction of admiration of Jesus turned to rejection. More, they took Him to the brow of the hill so as to “hurl him down headlong.” As if the truth can be killed thus! Foiling their intention, Jesus “passed through the midst of them and went away.” He escaped to live and preach again another day, but never in Nazareth again.

We see in these events a prelude of things to come as a result of Jesus' all–embracing ministry. His rejection by His townmates prefigures that of the leaders of the Jewish nation who worked up their fellow Jews to scream for Jesus blood: “Crucify Him!” And the hill of Nazareth from which He was to be pushed to death prefigures the hill of Cavalry from which He would attain His true glorification — His Resurrection and Ascension after His ignominious death.

The rejection of Jesus by His townmates happened two thousand years ago. Have times changed since then? Do we as Christians accept Jesus and His words as they are? Or do we shape Him and His teachings into our own image as His townmates did?

No different from the people's reaction — “Is this not Joseph's son?” — is our tendency to put people in boxes, out of which we do not allow them to escape. For example, when we see someone whom we always considered a big sinner receive Holy Communion, we think that something is wrong somewhere. As if a person can no longer respond to God's grace and thus mend his ways! Or when we hear someone say nice things about another person, we tend to ‘balance’ things by subtly pointing out some of his weaknesses. As if we are diminished when others are praised! Truly, “no prophet is accepted in his own native place.”

There is another point we can learn from the Nazareth episode. We find it easy to listen to God's words for indeed they are beautiful and inspiring. But when we realize their implications to and consequences in our lives, rejection begins. For example, we all want peace. But when Jesus tells us that the prerequisite for peace (whether at the individual or societal level) is understanding and reconciliation with justice, we cry foul, saying, “The harm done to us just can not be swept under the rug. We have not yet extracted our pound of flesh in revenge!”

Or we believe that the poor, say the squatters and homeless, are also human beings, that they too are entitled to the essentials to be able to live humanly — decent shelter, food, clothing and education for their children. But when we are told that “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none” (Lk.3:11), namely, that what we do not need belongs to the poor, we squirm and come out with all kinds of justifications. We say, “Why should I part with my hard earned money and belongings? Look at them. They are just a bunch of lazy people.” As if these poor people have not tried but without success due to the uncaring attitude of people and the structural injustices prevailing in contemporary society!

When we fashion God according to our own image — our thoughts, values and therefore preferences — we are like the proud rooster which boasts that the sun rises because of its crowing, forgetting that it is the light of the breaking sun which hits its eyes first, awakens it, and after which it crows. In order words, we must never dictate on God. Rather, what matters is for us to discern and then carry out His will.

The best prophets among us are those who show with their lives — in thought, words and deeds — that Jesus' word is still alive and active today. They are those who let Jesus be Jesus, those who listen to His words and act accordingly.