ColumnsSunday’s Word

The Nazarenes reject Jesus

February 3, 2019


Jer 1:4-5, 7-18

The call of Jeremiah

Ps 71:1-6, 15-17

In you I take refuge

1 Cor 12:3—3:13

Love is patient …

Lk 4:21-30

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The land of the Bible is divided, north to south, by the Jordan Valley. Today we know that this is a rift valley between two continental plates. Toward the north, a geological fracture causes a mountain ridge to head toward the northeast, where it projects into the Mediterranean. This is the original Mount Carmel. North of it runs a wide valley, from the Mediterranean to the Jordan. North of that valley lies the town of Nazareth. This might help to visualize today’s Gospel reading.

Continuing from last week, we discover things have taken an ugly turn. Previously, the townsfolk in the Nazareth synagogue approved the words of Jesus. But now they are outraged. When they begin to doubt, he offers the proverb, “no prophet is accepted in his own native place.” And to reinforce the point, he cites the examples of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. Their response is to throw him from the top of a bluff. The reaction seems seriously excessive. But it does preview what is to happen in the coming Gospel narrative.

The story features Elijah and Elisha, and these prophetic figures will influence both the Gospel and Acts, as Jesus is described in their image. However, today’s liturgical selection chooses to highlight another prophet — Jeremiah. The first reading, from the beginning of that book, is Jeremiah’s call to prophecy.

Again the theme is the rejection of the prophet, though it is not obvious at this point. At his call, Jeremiah is hesitant. He knows that the prophet does not have an easy way of it. He tries to argue his way out. In the part that the liturgical selection skips over, he claims that he is too young and that he is not a good speaker. He even stutters a bit to demonstrate that. However, the Lord insists, and this is the bulk of today’s reading. He is assured that the Lord will support and defend him. And so he agrees.

But this itself becomes a bone of contention. In six famous passages (Jer 11:18-20; 12:1-6; 15:10-21, 17:14-18; 18:18-23; 20:7-13), Jeremiah charges God with failing to keep his promise of support. It is true, Jeremiah’s prophetic task was daunting. He had to prepare Judah for the looming end of their kingdom, and they were in no mood to listen to him.

The most famous and pointed example of these complaints is the last. “You seduced me, Lord, and I let myself be seduced; you were too strong for me, and you prevailed” (20:7). Jeremiah is talking about his call, the very passage that serves as today’s first reading. At the same time, Jeremiah almost immediately resumed his mission, but now more soberly, in the light of the response he received.

The Gospel also shows Jesus in “Jeremiah” moments. The prominent of these is probably the words of Jesus in the Temple cleansing (Luke 19:45-48): “My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.” The last part of this is from Jeremiah’s own Temple sermon (Jer 7:11), delivered under similar circumstances. He is accusing his countrymen of using the Temple as a “den of thieves” — that is, a “hideout.” They think that they can do any kind of bad behavior, but they are covered when they come to worship in the Temple. Like a hideout.

In the second reading we have come to Paul’s famous passage about love, the greatest gift. Read at many weddings, and properly so, I often wonder what Paul thinks about that. In the same letter that Paul advises against marriage (1 Cor 7:25-40). But his larger message is to live a Christian life, whatever your present situation (1 Cor 7:17).

For reflection: Jeremiah suffered as a prophet, yet he persisted.

Father Beck is professor emeritus of religious studies at Loras College, Dubuque.