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Faithful witness will always involve joy and rejection

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Jer 1:4-5, 17-19; Ps 71; 1 Cor 12:31—13:13 or 13:4-13; Lk 4:21-30

By on Friday, 1 February 2013

A detail from Jesus Unrolls the Book in the Synagogue by French painter James Tissot (1836-1902)

A detail from Jesus Unrolls the Book in the Synagogue by French painter James Tissot (1836-1902)

“You see this child: he is destined for the fall and the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected, so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.” The prophecy of Simeon, proclaimed at the Presentation of the Lord, anticipated the theme that runs through the Sunday readings.

Faith calls us to witness to the Good News of salvation. Simeon foresaw that the child Jesus would become a light to the nations. He also predicted the inevitable rejection as his goodness confronted a sinful world. The child would become a sign that would be rejected, that would be crucified and rise again.

The faith that we celebrate during this Year of Faith, while a joyful proclamation of Christ’s resurrection, will, at times, be misunderstood and rejected.

We have only to think of current debates concerning marriage and the rights of the unborn to realise that faithful witness will always involve both joy and rejection.

The calling of the Prophet Jeremiah enables to understand both the grace of God’s calling and the dynamic enabling our response in faith. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you. I have appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

Whatever our calling in life, be it great or small, we do not stand alone. Like Jeremiah, we have been formed by a love that preceded any conscious thought on our part. That love, in the words of Jeremiah’s call, consecrated and enabled us for the hidden challenges that test our faith. This is particularly true in those overwhelming moments when the frailty of our humanity seems unequal to the challenge.

Jeremiah, whose ministry would confront the faithlessness of a corrupt regime, did not stand alone. There would be times when, in the overwhelming isolation of the challenges that faced him, he would curse the day of his birth. In such moments he would find strength in the God who had called him. “I, for my part, will make you into a fortified city. They will fight against you but shall not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you.”

There will be times when we, like Jeremiah, feel helpless before the tide of life. With him, let us surrender ourselves to the Father whose grace called us into being.

Luke’s Gospel shows that the witness of Jesus provoked rejection from the very beginning. The enthusiasm that had first greeted Jesus at Nazareth rapidly turned to jealousy and rejection. “They said: ‘This is Joseph’s son, surely?’ ”

In response Jesus underlined the reason for their resistance.

“I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.” We should not be surprised to meet the same reaction, especially from those closest to us, when faith demands that we stand by the truth. Nor should we resist the challenges of those who love us.

There will be times when faith confronts our own inconsistencies and those of the world in which we live. At such times we should be guided by the love invoked by St Paul in his letter to the Corinthians. “Love is always patient and kind, it is never boastful or conceited. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes.”

Only in such love may we safely confront our own failings, and those of a sinful world.