Gospel Reflection for Jan. 30, 2022, Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The ancient call to prophecy, or a call to service for the Church as a deacon, priest, religious or lay catechist happens due to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and often comes at great cost. We hear of the call to a young man named Jeremiah whom God had chosen as a prophet. In spite of his objections, the Lord does not relent, and Jeremiah becomes one of the most significant of all the Jewish prophets. Yet, he was rejected by his people, abandoned by the king, and eventually murdered in exile.

Paul, author of the Second Reading, and called to be an apostle through an extraordinary encounter with the Risen Lord, is subject to numerous imprisonments, floggings, and the need to flee from towns under the cover of darkness. He is eventually beheaded by the Romans, having been betrayed by the same authorities who had Jesus crucified.

Jesus, having delivered his stunning first sermon which we heard last week, where he lays out his Messianic mission, sees the very same people who were at first in awe, turn to rejection and indignation. This certainly foreshadows the rest of his ministry, as Jesus will be constantly harassed by the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Scribes.

Perhaps none of this sounds inviting to the average person struggling with religious faith. The cruelty and indignity suffered by countless numbers of Christians from St. Stephen the first martyr until the present day, offers a telling contrast from the call of Jesus Christ to his disciples, as they are confronted by a disbelieving and hostile world.

As with the Old Testament prophets and at times even Jesus, the preaching of the Word can sound harsh. This is especially true during times when it is necessary to confront the sinfulness of the world, or to proclaim the Gospel to those who clearly have rejected it. So often, and in a particular way today with many cultural norms and values at odds with the teaching of Jesus and the Church, living and preaching the Gospel brings about a negative reaction. The world’s sense of justice, of freedom, of love, and of the meaning and dignity of life itself is often at a polar opposite from how we understand, live, and preach those very same values.

Jeremiah was never afraid to proclaim the prophecy, though he often struggled with his role as a prophet. Paul was never afraid to proclaim the Gospel, though he suffered greatly for doing so. Jesus never backed down from proclaiming the Kingdom of God even knowing the great rejection and torture he was to endure.

At first the assembly, many of whom have known Jesus and his family for his entire life, is intrigued by Jesus. Rumor has spread about the magnificent works he has done in Capernaum and at other villages between there and Nazareth. They want to see a miracle, for Jesus to do something spectacular. Instead Jesus invites them to share in his mission proclaiming the Kingdom of God. It is then that they turn on him and reject not only the mission and the message, they reject even Jesus himself. Yet, as we see here in Nazareth Jesus engages in dialogue with those who are hostile towards even at the very onset of his ministry. Had the crowd their way, Jesus would have been killed after just this one sermon.

Moving on from there, his hometown, his notoriety spreads until, sometime later, the leaders of the people are tired of the proclamation and acts on behalf of the Kingdom of God, and he is hanged on the Cross.

We can muse on so many examples of disciples who walked that same path. St Oscar Romero martyred in El Salvador in 1980; St. Isaac Jogues and the other French Jesuits martyred in New York territory in 1646; St. Agatha Lin martyred in China in 1858; Father Rufus Halley murdered in 2001 in Philippines; this past Christmas Eve 35 Myanmar Catholics were shot and then their bodies burned.

Many thousands of missionaries and ordinary Christians throughout the world today, are enduring much hostility and violence solely because they choose to live the faith; to remain faithful to their calling. Discipleship, and especially leadership in service to the Gospel comes at a great cost. They live a life of white martyrdom – that is suffering alienation, hostility, and marginalization for the faith. Many of them are well-aware that their lives are at stake and that someday they may die for their faith.

While today living the faith can be challenging, and at time evoking suspicion or hostility, for the most part here in America we have it easy. Yet, when we see what happens around the world, and listen to some of the virulent anti-Catholic and anti-Christian sentiment around us, we cannot allow ourselves take for granted what so many suffered and died for over the past 21 centuries.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.