By Canon Gerry Conroy
I have always found Sunday’s Gospel very hard to follow: things change in it so quickly. One minute everyone is full of praise for Jesus, the next minute they are critical of him and the very next moment they are trying to kill him. There is also the added aspect that Jesus seems to be deliberately goading them to get annoyed with him. Perhaps another way of reading it is to say that the people were approving of Jesus as long as they liked what they were hearing, but the moment Jesus started to speak some home truths to them their attitude suddenly changed and they became hostile. That is a reality with which we are more familiar. People are appreciative as longs as they are hearing what they want to hear, but when you begin to challenge them, they immediately become defensive, even angry.
The fact that St Luke tells this story as part of his introduction to the ministry of Jesus makes you ask if he is warning us that for all his seeming popularity, the death of Jesus was inevitable because what Jesus had to say was at times just too challenging for people to welcome it with open arms. That thought can strike a bit of an open nerve for all of us, challenging the consumerist mentality that can affect the way we approach life in general: the one that says there is plenty of choice around, if I don’t like something here, I can go somewhere else and take what they are offering. That is one way of not having to confront the challenge of Christ’s message.
What seems to be particularly challenging to the people in the synagogue is that Jesus suggests that pagans are more accepting of the word of God than are they, the chosen people of God. That particular accusation seems to be in reply to their dismissal of Christ as just a local boy; they are already closing off to what he has to say, because they know him – he can have nothing new to say to them, which is a good way of closing off to anything challenging he might have to say.
Being open to being challenged about our way of life is not easy; we tend to take such things as a personal affront to us and don’t want to hear what is being said. That 2nd reading and St Paul’s panegyric on love is a good example of how we can take from something only what we like and not really hear what is more challenging. We are more than happy to stress the importance of love as a value and even crown it as the most important thing in life, but we tend to overlook the part where he says love is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish. None of us can say our love has perfected all those characteristics and yet we would still profess that we love. We might also tell ourselves no love is perfect and we just have to live with it as do those we love. We turn a blind eye to the challenge for our love to grow and mature. We may not understand that we are given one another by God so that our love can grow and mature.
We are by no means perfect creatures, but we are called to grow in perfection. It is surely a vote of confidence in us by God that he believes we can grow and mature, that we are not imprisoned by our frailty and imperfections. He has given us this wonderful gift of freedom so that we can grow and mature and come again to that image and likeness of God in which we were created.