Life and Soul

Word This Week

St Paul Writing His Epistles, attributed to Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632)

Fourth Sunday of the Year
Jer 1:4-5 & 17-19; 1 Cor 12:31–13:13; Lk 4: 21-30 (Year C)

“I have appointed you as a prophet to the nations. They will fight against you but shall not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you, it is the Lord who speaks.”

Such was the ministry entrusted to the prophet Jeremiah as the forces of destruction gathered around Jerusalem. His repeated calls to repentance had fallen on deaf ears. In the prophet’s words, they had become a nation that would neither listen to the word of the Lord nor take correction. Sincerity was no more, it had vanished from their mouths.

With the benefit of hindsight we can see the heavy cost of Jerusalem’s stubborn resistance. Within a generation the Holy City was in ruins, collapsed beneath the weight of hostile invasion and its own sinful corruption.

Dramatic though this stubborn resistance to Jeremiah’s ministry appears, it points towards a more general flaw in sinful humanity. Pride resists scrutiny, and especially the humility that must accompany self-scrutiny.

Throughout his ministry Jesus confronted the pride with which both scribes and Pharisees resisted his Gospel. We ourselves follow in their footsteps when we belittle the virtue of others lest their light eclipse our own.

Such was the fate of Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. At first he won the approval of all who were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips. This initial approval soon turned to rejection. “This is Joseph’s son, surely?”

Jesus confronted this petty jealousy, pointing to the Sidonian widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian, both outsiders, who had readily acknowledged God’s presence in his prophets. What had begun as petty jealousy soon escalated to violent intent. “When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They took him to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him over the cliff.”

St Paul encountered similar petty jealousies among the divided Christians of Corinth. He proposed pride’s antidote in words that will serve us well during this Year of Mercy: “Love is always patient and kind: it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited, it does not take offence and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s faults. It is always ready to excuse, to trust, and to endure whatever comes.”