On the Road Together for February 3
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
by Tracy Rodenborn, Director of RCIA
Included or Excluded?
The Gospel writer of Luke actually wrote a two-part book – what we have now as the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. The Acts of the Apostles relays the early missionary activity of the church and shows the movement of the Holy Spirit safeguarding and guiding the church through persecution, growth and some major decisions as Christianity spread. A main theme of the writer of Luke-Acts is the inclusion of Christ’s message and God’s desire to save that is extended beyond the Jews to all people of the world. We see the start of this message in our Gospel passage today. This week’s Gospel is a continuation from last week when Jesus returns to Nazareth and enters the synagogue and proclaims a passage from the Prophet Isaiah and tells them that passage is fulfilled in their hearing that day. We see in our selection this weekend that at first, the people praised him and were excited about this possibility, but by the end of our Gospel today, they turn to violence and try to hurl him over the brow of the hill, though he escapes in the midst of the them.
What happened in the meantime? Not to defend them for their violent reaction, but Jesus’ words do incite their ire. This is because he gives two examples from the Old Testament of God’s favor being with non-Israelites. First the widow in Zarephath who is saved from famine when she offers Elijah her last bit of oil and flour for a cake. She is a Gentile. The second example Jesus uses is a leper cleansed during the time of another prophet, Elisha. Again, the only one healed was a Gentile, not a Jew. In Jesus’ inaugural speech at the beginning of his adult ministry, he clearly makes the point that God’s salvation is not reserved only for a few, but indeed for all. Today’s passage includes a play on inclusion and exclusion – the Israelites listening to Jesus went from feeling included in Jesus’ message from the prophet Isaiah to feeling excluded in the examples Jesus gives. It was this exclusion that incited their anger and violence.
This is the same feeling of exclusion Jesus will find often in His ministry. This is the same exclusion that the prophet Jeremiah knew before he even said yes to God’s call of prophecy, and it is the same exclusion that prompts St. Paul to write this beautiful passage about what real love looks like – it never fails, it is never jealous. In other words, love seeks the higher spiritual gifts and never excludes.
As we think about these readings and the impetus in Luke-Acts to include all people in God’s offer of salvation, we might need to look at our own conceptions of who we think deserves to be included and excluded. When does God’s magnanimous offer of salvation make us jealous or bitter? Who might we exclude in our daily lives without even knowing it? And when our Christian commitments make us feel excluded, are we lifted up by the promise of God to Jeremiah to make him a pillar of iron, a wall of brass that enemies cannot prevail against? Where do we turn in the face of rejection and exclusion – to violence and anger or to the words of St. Paul about what true love really is?
Readings for February 3:
on Thursday, January 31 at 4:24PM