Thursday, January 28, 2016

4th Sunday Year C (Gospel: Luke 4:21-30) I will make you into a pillar of iron and a wall of bronze

Last week I was at the march for Life in Washington DC and we got stranded in the blizzard, which is why there was no sermon!

I heard a story about a priest who was going to stay with his niece and her partner.  It was an awkward situation because they were both into occult practice and he was a priest.  They also knew he knew they were into this, but for the few days that he was with them he never once mentioned a word about it, or made any remarks or comments.  Instead he was just very loving towards them and showed great respect for them.  They were so moved by his that it actually won them over to Christianity.

Frank Duff, the man who founded the Legion of Mary, had a lovely saying: ‘Win an argument, lose a soul.’  Arguments don’t win people over; love does.

Today’s readings present us with two things.  First of all, the prophet, or the person who speaks the word of God, the message of God, is going to meet opposition.  While that applies especially to the one who has to preach it, it also applies to all of us who try to live it.  As you know it is ‘cool’ to be just about anything except Catholic at the moment.  We are in the minority now and the Lord is putting it to us to try and be faithful in the midst of so much opposition.  In the first reading God says to the prophet:
Brace yourself for action… Do not be dismayed in their presence… I will make you into a pillar of iron and a wall of bronze to confront all this land (Jer 1:17-18)

The Lord continues to say the same to us.  ‘Don’t be afraid because people are opposed to you, or to your way of life, or what you believe in.  Instead, stand your ground.’ 
They will fight against you but shall not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you—it is the Lord who speaks (Jer 1:19).

It is a big temptation for us to take what might seem like an easier option, or just to take the bits of our faith that suit us. After all, that can seem much more ‘reasonable’. However, that is not what the Lord tells us to do. The Lord tells us to try and be faithful to his word, because that is the path that leads to life. That is the path that will bring us to fulfilment more than anything else. Following the way of his teachings is not easy, but it is completely worthwhile.

From the beginning of his preaching Jesus met continued opposition. In today’s Gospel we read how in a matter of minutes the people went from admiring the beautiful words that came out of his mouth, to wanting to kill him. Another time when the apostles came and told him that everyone was looking for him because they wanted to hear him, he said, ‘Let us go elsewhere to the neighbouring towns.’  He knew what he had to do and whether he was popular or not, he just kept going about what the Father in heaven had sent him to do.

The Lord is telling us something through all this.  He is calling us to be faithful.  We may be in the minority and there may be plenty of opposition, but it doesn’t matter. God has given us something extraordinary in his teaching and although we are free to take it or leave it we will never find anything else that could compare to his teaching. 

The second thing that we are presented with in today’s readings is the call to love.  Nothing is more important than this. Love is patient, kind, gentle, tolerant. This is what we are called to try and live. We will say more to the people around us by the way we live than by any arguments we could make. In the beginning the Christians were a small group and people were very suspicious of them, but it was the witness of their lives that convinced others as to what they were about. People were amazed at how they loved each other and how they tried to live. The same holds true for us.

In one of his famous speeches, Martin Luther King said something very similar:
To our bitterest opponents we say: We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering.  We shall meet your physical force with soul force.  Do to us what you will, we shall continue to love you… Throw us in jail, we shall still love you.  Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half-dead and we shall still love you.  One day we will win freedom, but not only for ourselves.  We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process. (Martin Luther King, Strength to Love)

The ‘secret’ of being able to live this way, is for us to root ourselves in God, because it is only through our relationship to God that we receive the ability to love those around us; to be tolerant with those who are different to us or who directly oppose us. That is why each week we keep coming back to listen to God’s word and see what he is saying to us; and we keep coming back to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, because if we try to live the way of Christianity by our own strength we will quickly fail. The Lord doesn’t expect us to live it by our own strength and neither should we. Our strength comes from staying close to him.

In the end there are three things that last: faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love (1 Cor 13:13)

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