February 02,2013 12:46 AM
By: Fr. Czar Emmanuel Alvarez, O.S.A.
4TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Gospel Reading: Luke 4:21-30
TODAY’S Gospel reading narrates the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. He started by preaching in the small village of Nazareth in Galilee (in present-day Northern Israel).
The New Testament presents it as the hometown of Jesus (cf. Lk 2:39-40) and the place where the Blessed Virgin Mary had received the Archangel Gabriel’s annunciation (cf. Lk 1:26-38). It was also where the Holy Family settled after their return from Egypt, where they fled to save the child Jesus from King Herod’s persecution (cf. Mt 2:19-23).
There are passages in the Gospels that present Nazareth in a rather negative light. Nathaniel, for example, once asked: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46) According to Mk 6:5, Jesus once could not perform a miracle there because of its inhabitants’ lack of faith in him. Even if the Lord grew up in Nazareth, his so-called “brothers” did not believe in him (cf. Jn 7:5). Today’s Gospel also reflects the Nazarenes’ proclivity to anger as they “sprang to their feet and hustled [Jesus] out of the town … intending to throw him down the cliff” (v.29).
All of these negative descriptions of Nazareth and its people are quite surprising considering that, from the archeological point of view, the town was apparently abandoned after the Assyrians destroyed the northern territories in ca. 720 BC and, unlike Samaria, was never inhabited or “contaminated” by pagan or non-Jewish nations. Possibly the evangelists generalized their negative attitude and extended it to include the entire region of the north because of what happened to Samaria during the Assyrian occupation, when the local inhabitants of the place were sent to exile and pagan nations were introduced instead to replace them. For the Jews, who considered themselves as “pure,” this event brought about the “contamination” of the Samarians and, by extension, of the “Northerners” (including the people of Nazareth).
The evangelists’ prejudice towards the Nazarenes is concretely expressed by presenting the latter as a people who rejected even the prophets, messengers of God. In the present case, we have the rejection of Jesus himself even by his own people. Thus he says: “I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country” (v.24). This theme of the “rejected prophet” is common in many New Testament texts, particularly in the writings of Saint Luke (cf. Lk 6:22-23; 11:49-51; 13:34-35; Acts 7:35.51-52; etc.).
Why was Jesus rejected by his own people? Remember that during that time, the Nazarenes were also Jews, who believed that God’s gift of salvation was restricted to them. When Christ presented two cases of non-Jews or pagans to whom God had shown a particular favor in the past – namely, a widow at Zarephath in Sidon (cf. 1Kgs 17:9) and the Syrian king Naaman (cf. 2Kgs 5:14) – the Nazarenes were enraged and wanted to kill him. They simply could not accept the fact that God could show mercy also to the Gentiles.
The tendency to think like the Jews in our Gospel reading continues to exist among us even today. Thus, we sometimes consider ourselves as somewhat more “privileged” compared with other people around us. And such exclusivist mentality can manifest itself in various forms of discrimination and hostile behaviors. Recent history gives us concrete examples of atrocities committed by a nation or a group of people who considered themselves as a “superior race.” Think of the Nazis during World War II, for example. We do not even have to look far or refer to distant past to verify this. In the Philippine society today, the ever-widening gap between the “privileged” and the “less privileged” or between the “fortunate” and the “unfortunate” suffices to demonstrate the negative consequences of such a mentality.
Our Gospel today puts us on guard against any form of prejudice, bias and discrimination, and reminds us of our all being equal in God’s eyes. Saint Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, says: “You are, all of you, sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. All baptized in Christ, you have all clothed yourselves in Christ, and there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26-28). And since we are all equal in God’s eyes, then we all have the same possibility to be forgiven and saved by him. The Jews of Jesus’ time failed to understand this. Let us try not to become like them. Let us learn from their mistake and uphold instead the Gospel values of equality, unconditional love, reciprocal acceptance, mutual understanding, and justice.