Today’s homily is for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 30, 2022, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of this homily can be viewed by clicking here soon, and can be heard by clicking here soon.
The Alleluia today is “The Lord sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives.” That is our Lord’s message and also his mission. Glad tidings aren’t so bad. Liberty also sounds pretty sweet. I think the problem for me is…well, I’m not poor, and to be honest, I don’t mind saying that I live in the la’and of the freeee…and the hoo’ome of the braaave! At times I wonder, did Jesus come for me at all.
I think we could certainly have a discussion about what freedom really looks like, and how I’m poor in so many areas of my life. When it comes to patience, I’m nearly bankrupt. And with being an administrator at school with Omicron on the loose, I don’t have a dime to my name if we’re talking about peace. Don’t even get me started about how I’m a slave to chocolate, and if I’m being honest, all things sugary. But spiritual freedom and spiritual poverty are not what I’m talking about today. Today I’m talking about literal poverty, and actual slavery.
A friend of mine was fond of saying, “The Gospel exists to comfort the afflicted, and to afflict the comfortable.” That was originally said of newspapers, but I think it’s true of the Gospel as well. Today’s readings remind us of two very important truths: in the first reading from the prophet Jeremiah, before we were even formed in the womb, our God knew us and loved us. We are the apple of God’s eye, and that’s beautiful. And that’s the first important truth. And from the Gospel comes the second truth, namely, we’re not the only apple in God’s eye.
Jesus was welcomed in the synagogue of his youth, and they loved him, until he told them a very uncomfortable truth–they’re not the only person that God loves. “Yes, I’m afraid God loves gentiles too.” It wasn’t that the Jews were bad, it was that Jesus made others equal to them in God’s love–and that’s a hard pill for some people to swallow, both then and now. The Jews of Jesus’ day, members of his own community, certainly people that had known him from his youth, were enraged and tried to kill him all because he said something that is a bit hard for us to understand today. Jesus said, “I tell you, there were many widows in Israel when a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
We don’t recognize the insult embedded in Jesus’ remarks today, but it was clearly an insult to God’s people then. There were widows in Israel–God’s home, but the great prophet didn’t go to them. Instead he brought God’s food, nourishment, and hope to a widow in Sidon–present day Lebanon–not even one of God’s “special people,” his chosen ones. And the second example that Jesus threw in their face, was a leper. There were lepers in Israel–but God didn’t cleanse them, Elisha went instead to Naaman the Syrian. Also a gentile, and worse, and enemy of God’s people–that’s embarrassing. And that’s our second truth–God loves all his children–even those that call him by another name, or those that don’t know his name at all.
It reminds me a bit of how hard it is for kindergartners when they first arrive at school. They are the apple of mom and dad’s eye, everyone at home at their beck and call; kings and queens of the castle–until they’re in a classroom with twenty five other kings and queens! All of a sudden, they’re not so special anymore. They have to wait their turn and learn to share…the world doesn’t revolve around them…shocking. And I think that’s a message for us too. God loves me, but it’s also true that God loves others too. The Gospel today afflicts me. It reminds me that if I’m not poor and if I am free, maybe I could give a little more, and work to end child labor, human trafficking, and economic slavery. I have been afforded great privilege and have been abundantly blessed. God loves me, and I know it, but I wonder if there is enough of God’s love in me to cause me to help someone else whom God also loves…maybe even just as much?