A reading from the prophecy of Jeremiah
(Chapter 1:4-5, 17-19)
Jesus once remarked that a prophet is not honored in his own country (Mark 6:4). That was certainly true of Jeremiah. He was treated terribly by his own people and was almost killed. In the passage read in today’s Mass, God is preparing Jeremiah for his “terrible task” and assuring him, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you a prophet to the nations I appointed you…. Stand up and tell them all that I command you. Be not crushed on my account.”
Jeremiah suffered greatly and was almost crushed. Still, he was faithful to God despite his many fears and depression. Somehow, God’s strength was with him in the most painful and desperate times.
We all have times of fear, depression, and the concern that we are not up to the task before us. It seems to be just too much. At those very times, God will be present to us in numerous ways, if we can listen to his saving message and accept the support that might be near at hand.
“I will sing of your salvation.” This beautiful psalm is an affirmation that God is on our side always, “a stronghold to give me safety. “
A reading from St. Paul's first Letter to the Corinthians
I am sure you have heard this reading at numerous weddings. There is a good reason for that. It is one of the most beautiful and meaningful passages in the Bible. When the Beatles sang “All You Need Is Love” some 50 years ago they were right on target, perhaps more than they knew. The message of Jesus is primarily a message of love, not just our love for one another but, first of all, God’s unconditional love for us. Paul mentions many other gifts that we may have, but none of them mean anything if we do not have love. We need to recognize this gift of love, accept it, even though we may not think we deserve it, and then share it as the greatest gift we can possibly give to others. Truth is important, but it must be spoken with love. Justice is essential in our dealings with others and in our society, but it must be achieved and practiced with love. Faith is a powerful force in our lives, but without love it is empty words.
Paul tells us that “Love never fails. “Do you believe that? Have you not had love rejected or misunderstood or betrayed? How can it be that love never fails? Sometimes it seems that it does fail no matter how hard you try. But that does not mean that God’s love has failed or that your love for someone was in vain. A broken love can destroy a person, but it need not. There can be healing that may strain your love and your faith but strengthen them in the long run and possibly lead to a deeper, more genuine love. It did for Paul and Jeremiah. They were battered more than most of us can imagine, but their love did not die.
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke
Have you ever watched a powerful speaker rouse a crowd and then lose them because of something he or she said that they found disagreeable? I have, and it can be frightening. The crowd turns, and suddenly the speaker who was beloved a few minutes before is now in danger.
That was what happened to Jesus. Why? Because his audience thought he had insulted their history by citing two instances in the history of Israel in which God favored foreigners and nonbelievers—the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian. Who was he to insult their ancestors?
The key here is that after Jesus read the section from the prophecy of Isaiah, he said that the promise “has been fulfilled in your hearing,” meaning that he was the fulfillment of the promise. He was the one who would proclaim the reign of God. But, of course, he was saying all this in his hometown, and the people did not believe him. How could one so human, one so familiar, be proclaiming a divine message? This is an early sign of the rejection that would lead to his death.
Painting, Christ in the Synagogue at Nazareth, Gerbrand van den Eekhout (1621-1674), National Gallery of Ireland, public domain.
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
Bill Ayers was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.