The convergence of these three readings is serendipitous. The text from Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you,” is one favored by young men for their ordination Mass as they begin their service as deacons or priests. Young couples often choose the passage from Paul, “Love never fails” to be read during their nuptial Mass. There is an excitement that comes with beginning a new phase of one’s life. The words of the Prophet and of the Apostle offer the kind of positive support that can look to the future with optimism as one begins a new phase in one’s life. The gospel lesson, however, is a warning of troubles that lie ahead.
In the Gospel story that we read today, Luke changes the setting. While Matthew and Mark tell of Jesus beginning his preaching ministry in Capernaum, Luke depicts Jesus as returning to his home village shortly after beginning a new phase in his life. Empowered by the Spirit which had descended upon him at the River Jordan, fortified by prayer and fasting, and tested by temptation in the desert, Jesus sets out on his mission to proclaim the coming of God’s reign. He had already gained some fame as a healer in the villages of Galilee before returning to the village where he was raised. The people of Nazareth, however, were not too impressed by “the son of Joseph.” They had seen him grow up in their midst and knew him as a carpenter. So when he comes among them claiming to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, they were amazed by his gracious words, but they did not want to listen to him preach. They wanted him to work some wonders like those they had heard of. Then they were insulted when Jesus brought up Elijah and Elisha so they ran him out of town. Still, the reception Jesus received in Nazareth did not deter him from continuing his mission. He moved on, settling in Capernaum - another village thirty miles distant, located along the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. From Capernaum he began visiting the towns and villages in the vicinity, announcing the good news, calling for repentance and faith, and healing the sick.
The words that God speaks to Jeremiah do not promise the prophet great success and universal acclaim. Quite the contrary, God’s words of support imply that the prophet will face serious difficulties in fulfilling his mission. Similarly, the psalmist is no Pollyanna yet the words of Psalm 71 exude the confidence that comes from faith. Paul, of course, was not giving advice to newlyweds in his lyrical description of the meaning of love. He was describing the cement that binds together the Christian community. These scriptures are most appropriate not only for newlyweds and the newly ordained but for all people who stand at the threshold of the future, looking ahead with joy, enthusiasm and commitment.
Luke’s story of Jesus’ homecoming offers a necessary “reality check” because, unfortunately, there are too many “Nazarenes” out there-people from whom we expect support and encouragement but who fail us. Pope St. John XXIII called the “Nazarenes” he encountered after the convoked Vatican II “prophets of doom.” Toward the end of his life, Pope St. John Paul II faced his “Nazarenes,” who thought him to be too old, too tired, too feeble to keep up with the demands made by the modern papacy. But John Paul II was most happy and most energized when he was proclaiming the Gospel and encouraging God’s people and they responded to him with great love and affection.
Christians look to the future with confidence and assurance because the battle with the power of evil has been fought and won. Victory is assured because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The “Nazarenes” of today should not deter believers from keeping their commitment to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. Authentic Christians believe God who says “… I am with you…” because they know that “love never fails.”
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M.