Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator
We don't usually think of Jesus as being the type of person who would insult people. Insults are considered the mark of a less than charitable person, someone whom we would avoid and of whom we would not think well. However, the society and culture of Jesus' time and place was, and to a certain extent, still is an agonistic society and culture. The word is defined thus: 1. Striving to overcome in argument; combative. 2. Struggling to achieve effect; strained and contrived. 3. Of or relating to contests, originally those of the ancient Greeks. As it relates to Jesus and his culture, it refers to debate. As we know, Jesus was oftentimes drawn into debate with his enemies. Verbal debate skills of Jesus' time included anything that would impugn the honor of the opponent. So rather than being uncharitable, it was simply considered part of good debating skills.
Today's Gospel passage displays Jesus' agonistic debating skills. He references the city of Sodom and compares it to Chorazin and Bethsaida in his discourse with the locals there. He claims that the people of Sodom would have repented had they heard him preach while it seems that the people of Chorazin and Bethsaida refuse to pay any attention to his message. Anyone who knows the Hebrew Scriptures knows that Sodom was a place of great sin. These people to whom Jesus is speaking would certainly have understood what Jesus is saying.
This is not to say that such tactics are fair game in our own preaching and conversation. Our culture and society does not respond well to such remarks. What today's Gospel does for us is not so much provide an example as it does provide us the need for repentance in our own lives. The Gospel is primarily about repentance and conversion. After all, Jesus came specifically to call us to repentance. Today we simply hear that message put in strong terms.