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Sunday 31st January

  • Jeremiah 1:4-5,17-19
  • Psalm 71: 1-6,15-17
  • 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13
  • Luke 4:21-30

Going home can be a rewarding experience. The familiar faces in the synagogue and in the streets must have brought great joy and many memories flooding back to Jesus. From the rock of this small intimate community he had been hewn and then sent out. This was the corner of the world which was best known to him yet he receives a somewhat chilly reception from his own people.

It is well said that an audience of one’s own is perhaps the most difficult audience of all. Try preaching or making a presentation to a gathering of your own family. That is why perhaps people are so nervous at wedding speeches.

Jesus, with his disciples goes to the synagogue and preaches and his hearers are astonished. They ask, where did the man get all this? This is the crucial question which should have led them to faith. God has always chosen someone from the people, to speak to the people. The faith of the Nazarenes hesitates before the person who to them is ordinary and familiar. This is not how they imagined the Messiah would be. They tease him with the implication that while he may have fooled others in the surrounding area, they cannot be fooled because they think that they know him. Familiarity breeds contempt. They judge reports of Jesus’ miracles as empty rumour. Firstly they praise him from a distance. Later they challenge him. Finally they condemn him.

Jesus counters their lack of faith by telling them, in the course of two famous examples, that it has always been so. The Hebrew people have persistently failed to believe the prophets and the irony is that this will be the lot of Jesus too. The anger and the closed-ness of the congregation is nothing new. Their withdrawal of confidence disarms Jesus. Faced with their non-acceptance of his divine source and origin, he can no longer work miracles. Perhaps Jesus’ miracle in this instance is that he escaped their clutches at the end of the story.

A lesson we can draw from this account is that there is a way of paralysing someone, of reducing them to powerlessness, by withdrawing confidence from them. When we use ready-made categories, when we label, stereotype, pre-judge, bad-mouth or blacklist others, individuals or social groups, then we imprison them and block their possibilities. We leave no room for hope, development, or change. We suppress their energy, discourage them, and set a final seal on them with our hasty and ill-considered judgements. ‘The man who slanders his neighbour in secret I will bring to silence’ Psalm. 100. We have all heard damning condemnations beginning with, ‘Sure I remember when…’

God speaks to us too, not always through extraordinary events or people but through very ordinary human beings like ourselves, whether outsider or native. It is our task to recognise the unpredictable presence of God in our lives. Jeremiah thought he was too young to be taken seriously. God reassured him of his call, of his support, and of ultimate victory.

It is our task above all to have faith in who Jesus was, since he was, we believe, truly the word made flesh, the Son of God, then we do well to recognise him in his many disguises and to actively look and search out his presence in word, in sacrament, and in the mystery which is self or another person, no matter how familiar.