30th January, 2022

Statue of St. PaulStatue of St. Paul

The 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, C

Today’s Gospel is a continuation of the Gospel that we pondered a week ago. As we have heard, one Saturday Jesus came to his hometown of Nazareth, where everyone knew him as well as his family very well. He entered the Jewish synagogue which He visited many times with His parents as a child and then as a teenager, to worship, pray and listen to the Scriptures.

Today – as the Gospel says – he came again to this holy and special place, but this time as an adult man. When He entered the synagogue, He found everyone praying, because according to the Jewish tradition it was a Sabbath day. All the Jews read or listened to the Scriptures, and worshipped God as they had been taught by their ancestors. According to the Jewish tradition, each participant of these prayers could read a short text from the Scriptures, and then explain that particular text to others just as we preach or listen to homilies in our church every Sunday after the Gospel. And that’s exactly what Jesus did. After reading the passage of Isaiah, He began to preach His sermon. As we may remember, He began his speech with the following words: “This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen”. And at that point – as the Gospel says – many people were astonished and impressed, because they not only heard this unusual sermon, but also remembered most of the miracles and healings performed by Jesus. “This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen”. But apparently it was not enough for them, since they doubted who He really was: “This is Joseph’s son surely?” Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said to them in reply: “No prophet is ever accepted in his own country” and that meant more or less that it was easier for Him to be accepted and understood by people from outside of Nazareth and strangers than by all the people He knew for many years, and among whom He grew up. And that is why Jesus reminded them of the prophet Elisha, who miraculously healed the Syrian Naaman. But he also reminded them of another prophet Elijah, who lived and prophesied in another town and who helped a widow in a Sidonian town.

Through these two examples of the prophets Elijah and Elisha, but also through the example of the two people who experienced God’s grace in their life struggles, and who had never heard of the God of Israel before, Jesus wanted to tell His listeners that although God wants to offer His grace and His salvation to every human being, it will be given primarily to people who trust and believe in Him. The widow from Zerephath – everyone who knows this beautiful story from the Old Testament, knows that from the very beginning she believed in all the promises of the prophet Elijah, and similarly Naaman from the very beginning believed in the great power and strength of the God of Israel. Both of them – although they were pagans – immediately experienced His presence, and although God freed them only from their worldly problems, this liberation is a symbol of something much greater, a spiritual liberation from sin, death and the power of evil.

As we may remember, the prophets Elijah and Elisha were rejected by their nation, just as Jesus was rejected by people in His home town of Nazareth. Jesus was rejected by them only because He gave them as an example to follow – two pagans: the widow from Zerephath and the leper Naaman. We can imagine that it had to be a great shock and shame for all his listeners, and that is why – as the Gospel says – they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him down off the cliff. It was the only reason that they reacted in such a horrible and brutal way. But as we also remember from the Bible neither Jesus nor Elijah and Elisha broke down in all the difficulties they had to face, but instead went to other countries and towns to preach and teach other nations. Moreover, many times they were very warmly welcomed and appreciated by the pagans. We as Christians and followers of Jesus should be people of deep faith, hope and love, the love of which Saint Paul speaks of so beautifully in the letter to the Corinthians. Saint Paul, who grew up in the spirit of the law, who always thought and said that the most important thing in life is the law, and that only the law was enough to achieve eternal life and happiness. St. Paul was thinking in this way, until he encountered Jesus and until he found out that love was the most important thing in his life and in the life of every human being. Only love guarantees the fulfilment of the law; it is love that connects nations; it is love that unites people, families and parishes; it is love that makes us see God in another person.

Today in this temple, in our parish church, Jesus is just as present as He was in the synagogue in Nazareth. And just like over 2000 years ago, he reads the Word of God, explains it to us and says: This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen. But we have to believe His words. Let us never forget that God has offered his salvation to every human being, to each one of us, but only those who have deep faith and true love will achieve what He promised. Amen.

Fr Gregory