Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (Jan. 31, 2016)

This is the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time. In Ordinary time, the FirstReading is always especially chosen by the Church to complement theGospel. So if we compare our First Reading and our Gospel, we ought tobe able to find a common theme. Let’s have a look.

Our First Reading isfrom the first chapter of the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah. In thepassage, the Lord tells Jeremiah that he, Jeremiah, has been appointed”prophet to the nations.” And the Lord implies that the nations aren’tgoing to like the message Jeremiah will be given to deliver. If he does hisjob properly, he will make many dangerous enemies. But the Lord assuresJeremiah that, try as they might, none of Jeremiah’s enemies will be ableto destroy him. The Lord says to Jeremiah, and here I quote from thepassage, “I this dayhave made you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wallof brass, against the whole land.” In short, God has made Jeremiahentirely safe from attack. He is invulnerable.

Now let’s turn to the Gospel. Here we are in the fourth chapter ofthe Gospel of Luke. Jesus is speaking at the synagogue in his hometown.His words enrage his listeners. They drive him out of town, intending tothrow him headfirst from the height on which the town is built. “But,”and here I quote, “Jesus passed through the midst of them and wentaway.” It turns out, then, that despite all their fury, the angry mobcannot hurt Jesus. He is invulnerable.So, there’s our common theme.

Jesus, faithful as always to hisFather’s will, is invulnerable to injury. And Jeremiah may proclaim God’sword secure in the knowledge that he is invulnerable to his enemies. Itremains for us to ask how these scripture passages apply to us. We couldconclude that if we, like Jesus and Jeremiah, remain courageouslyobedient to God’s will, we will be invulnerable to all harm. Now if the FirstReading and the Gospel were all that the Church had given us for thisFourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, I could stop now and we would have hadour shortest Scripture reflection ever. But there is still the matter of theSecond Reading. And Second Readings cannot be counted upon tofaithfully mirror the theme of the other two.

Our Second Reading is the famous passage from the First Letter tothe Corinthians, in which Saint Paul describes love. You’ve probably heardit at about half of the weddings you’ve ever attended. Let me quote afew qualities Paul attributes to love that seem most relevant to ourreflections today: “Lovedoes not brood over injuryIt bears allthingshopes all things, endures all things.” Now I can’t even begin toclaim that these words are about invulnerability. Quite to the contrary,they seem to be about being vulnerable and staying that way. And I thinkwe’d all agree that that is, in fact, what love requires.

If you are going tolove you have to be willing to risk getting hurt. In fact, it’s probably fairto say that to love always involves suffering, if for no other reason thanthat when someone we love suffers, we suffer too.So, if we take our Second Reading into account along with the othertwo, maybe the message we should take away today is not, “If you arefaithful you will be invulnerable,” but rather, “if you are faithful, God willsustain you in your vulnerability.”

In faith, we need not be afraid to lovefor fear of suffering. We are free to love as Christ loved, in the sure hopethat God will give us the grace and strength to endure whatever comes.We can allow ourselves to be vulnerable to the suffering of a grievingfriend, or of a family member who has lost her job and her house. We canlet ourselves feel the anguish of people in Syria, knowing the Lord willsupport us in our efforts to love.And this is some of the best news imaginable because it means weneedn’t let fear prevent us from being human. For surely we creatures ofthe God who is Love need to love in order to be who we are created tobe.

Fr. Charles Gordon, C.S.C.

Rev. Charles B. Gordon, C.S.C., is co-director of the Garaventa Center for Catholic Intellectual Life and American Culture at the University of Portland. He writes and records a regular blog called “Fractio Verbi.”

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