Rejection at Nazareth- Luke 4:16-30

25 Jan

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding, and my entire will.
All I have and call my own.
Whatever I have or hold, you have given to me.
I restore it all to you and surrender it wholly
to be governed under your will.
Give me only your love and grace
and I am rich enough and ask for nothing more.

-St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), Spiritual Exercise 234

The founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) wrote this magnificent prayer as part of his Spiritual Exercises, a series of prayers, meditations, and recommendations that are designed to lead to a more contemplative approach toward spirituality. By reading, reflecting on, and observing the Spiritual Exercises, one ideally allows God to transform interior weakness and worldly preoccupations into willful surrender to and welcoming of the Lord. Thus, God becomes the true center of one’s life.

Our transformation is usually not immediate. For example, the Jesuit Fr. Thomas Green, spiritual director at San Jose Seminary in Manila, Philippines, and author of “Opening to God: A Guide to Prayer”, writes that “God…always works in peace, and usually slowly.” (Green p.58 ) Yet God is so patient that His patience is mysterious to us. We as God’s people don’t comprehend it and may even be hostile toward Him because of it. For many of us, our experience of the Lord is similar to that of Jonah. (cf. Jonah 2:10- 4:11) The reluctant prophet is spewed forth from the fish on the shore near Nineveh. Jonah proceeds to convert the city from its wicked ways on God’s orders. Afterward, God changes His plan to destroy Nineveh, sparing the city from His anger out of love after Nineveh had converted. Jonah is displeased with God’s mercy upon Nineveh, and even asks God twice that he might die. After the first time Jonah wishes to die, God asks him: “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4) God then summons a bush. This bush gives Jonah shelter, but a worm attacks and kills the bush. The wind becomes stronger and the day becomes hot.

In his discomfort, Jonah again asks to die. But Jonah doesn’t understand the message of the bush. God responds to Jonah: “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labour and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night”. (Jonah 4:10) The bush is symbolic of Nineveh and also relates to our own lives. God wills Jonah to be His instrument of conversion to the city. But the final destiny of Nineveh is in God’s hands alone, and God chooses to spare it. God also chooses to spare Jonah, despite his requests to die. God also chooses freely to save us through His Son Jesus Christ, despite our continued attraction to sin.

We are chosen by this Jesus to be His instruments of salvation, yet we are often reluctant to give our all to the mission. We respond to the initial calling to faith with youthful exuberance, as did St. Peter: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:2) But unless this faith is lived daily, the elation with which we confess our allegiance to the Lord who is the source of life for each person in community will give way to despair in times of trial. The bush in Jonah is like our faith in this sense. It springs up suddenly. It shelters us for short time. But unless we nurture it even when this is inconvenient, our faith will wither as quickly as it came to be.

Like Jonah, we often respond with reservation to God’s call to discipleship. This call of God’s may also be met by flat-out rejection. Thus it was at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry according to Luke. This Gospel passage was read during last Sunday’s Mass. As is done during the Mass, a knowledgeable preacher (Jesus, in these particular verses of Luke’s Gospel, or the priest and lectors at Mass) was asked to read from the Scriptures. Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because He has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

(Luke 4:18-19, cf. Isaiah 61:1-2)

Remarkably, Jesus returns to his place without continuing with the next line of his quotation from Isaiah, which warns of “the day of vengeance of our God”. (Isaiah 61:2) It is not a time of vengeance but a time of celebration. The people immediately respond favourably and with amazement, but the mood rapidly turns negative. (cf. Luke 4:22, 4:28 ) Jesus is recognized only as the son of Joseph by those in the synagogue, who do not accept Him fully even when it appears that they embrace His teaching. Lukewarm acceptance turns into the repudiation of Jesus, even in His hometown of Nazareth. Likewise, if the home we make for Jesus in our hearts is only somewhat welcoming, it cannot be fully open to the presence of the Lord. Thus, we reject Jesus within His home- ourselves.

In the face of rejection, the least likely people will accept God and will be met with His favour. When there was a famine, Elijah was not accepted by the starving Isrealites but by the poor “widow (from) Zerephath in Sidon”. (Luke 4:26) Naaman the Syrian was cleansed of leprosy by Elisha while the hard-hearted Isrealites were overlooked. (Luke 4:27) We must humble ourselves to be like these foreigners- completely open to the Word.

However, many times we can picture ourselves as the people in the synagogue who were preparing to run Jesus off a cliff. Rage controlled them, as it controls us in times of darkness and of distance from God. But Jesus escaped this deadly anger. His hour had not yet come. (cf. John 2:4, 21:22) He would be rejected again by all but His closest friends and relatives at an even more critical time, but through His death and resurrection He gives His whole self for our redemption because He loves us unconditionally.

We, too, are called to give of ourselves entirely in order to proclaim our “year of the Lord’s favour”. (Luke 4:19) The summons is urgent: “Today the Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21) We make the Mass a joyful sacrifice of praise. In our worship, we are strengthened. We go out sealed with and empowered by the Holy Spirit, so that we may accept Jesus and lovingly and patiently lead others into doing the same.

We pray for God’s aid in our journey of discipleship. May the Lord show us the way of patient love. May we be strengthened so that we do not reject God but instead accept Him wholly by abandoning ourselves to Him. In the words of Blessed Charles de Foucauld (1858-1916), whose prayer of abandonment I find strikingly similar to that of St. Ignatius with which I began this post, and to whom the order of the Little Brothers of Jesus is dedicated, we pray in order that we may abandon ourselves to the service of Christ our Lord and Saviour:

Father,
I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.

Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures-
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.

Amen.

WRS

(Blessed Charles de Foucauld was assassinated by Touareg rebels in remote Tamanrasset, Algeria in 1916, before his Rule for the Little Brothers of Jesus was put into use at the order’s founding in 1933. I will write more on his life in another post.)

 

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