“But you, gird up your loins; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them.” (Jeremiah 1:17)
The saying that truth is bitter comes alive powerfully in our liturgy today. Two things happen when we are confronted with the truth: we look inwards to weep over our sins or we look outwards to attack the person telling us the truth.
Last Sunday, we read about how the Prophet Ezra read the word of God to the assembly from morning till about noon, and when the people heard it, they were moved to tears. They cried just like David who was reduced to tears when Nathan confronted him with his wicked act of adultery and murder.
Today, we see the second kind of reaction to the truth. Jesus comes to his hometown and confronts his own people with the truth. Not only did they look down on him, they almost threw him off the cliff on which their city was built. What do we learn from this experience? What message do our readings today present to us?
1.Truth is Bitter But Lies are More Bitter.
Jesus knew quite well how the people would react when He told them the truth. Jesus knew how unpopular He would become but He also knew that failure to tell the truth was a bigger danger. This danger is what we read in today’s first reading: “Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them.” As Jesus would say: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28).
It is better for us to suffer in the hands of people for telling the truth than for us to spend our eternity in hellfire for refusing to preach and teach the truth. Again, as Jesus warned us: “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”(Matthew 10:32-33)
2. Say the Truth Even When It Hurts.
Another point we learn from Jesus is His boldness and courage to say the truth rather than simply tell the people what they like to hear. Sadly, this ugly trend has become the order of the day amongst modern day preachers. Since we are looking for “customers”, no one dares to talk about sin or confront people with their evil deeds. The result is that we have churches opening up in every corner of our cities but crime and immorality continue to increase amongst Christians. Jesus was never afraid of allowing the people to walk away from him. He was not interested in gathering a large crowd but in feeding souls. When people left Him over the issue of Holy Eucharist, Jesus turned to his own disciples and asked: “Do you also wish to go away?” (John 6:67).
3. Familiarity Destroys Faith.
As Jesus was speaking, Luke tells us that his own people wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth and said: “Is this not Joseph’s son?” As they listened to Jesus teach, rather than see God in human form, these people saw a Son of a Carpenter claiming to be God. Familiarity with God ordinarily is a good thing because it makes us see God as Family; one to whom we can easily relate with. However, when our familiarity causes us to look down on God or treat Jesus like an ordinary human being, doubt sets in. Never take God or the things of God for granted. Never lose touch with your childhood fear of God.
On the other hand, while we may condemn the people in Jesus’ hometown for not recognising the Divinity of Jesus, we should ask ourselves, “Do I recognise God in my fellow human being?” And if I do, why then do I find it very difficult to love my neighbour as myself as St. Paul teaches us in today’s second reading?
4. God does not treat us by Tribe but by The Measure of our Faith.
Both the widow of Zarephath who fed Elijah with the last morsel of flour she had and Naaman who agreed to bath in the river Jordan were not Jews yet because their actions were spurred by faith, they received miraculous favours. By citing examples of foreigners, Jesus basically was passing on a very strong message: It is our faith, not our tribe or membership of a particular church that counts.
God is the Father of all. God does not discriminate as we humans do. God will not favour any particular group against another simply because of where they come from. Rather, God teats us individually according to the level of our Faith.
5. Love Never Ends
In today’s second reading, St. Paul teaches us the importance of love above all other Christian virtues. Without love, our holiness, our sacrifices, our fasting, our regular church attendance is useless. Without love, we are basically empty. Loving others as ourselves is our greatest form of evangelization. We cannot convert souls if we do not have love in our hearts.
Note that the love that St. Paul is talking about is one that is not jealous or boastful, not arrogant or rude, not selfish, irritable or resentful, does not rejoice in wrongdoing but in right. St. Paul concludes that Love never ends. Indeed, a love that does not end is a love that forgives, a love that makes sacrifices for others, a love that never gives up on others just as God will never give up on us.
Let us Pray: Lord Jesus, may the bitterness of truth cleanse me of my sins and deepen my love for others. Amen.
Bible Study: Jeremiah 1:4-5;17-19, Psalm 71, 1st Corinthians 12:31-13:13 and Luke 4:21-30).