4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
Wearing Green in a Sea of Blue
Wearing Green in a Sea of Blue
Readings: Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19; Psalm 71:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 15-17; 1 Corinthians 12:31—13:13 or 13:4-13; Luke 4:21-30
Picture: cc inboundpass
Dear sisters and brothers, some years ago, someone I know found himself at a college basketball game. The Jesuits were playing their traditional rivals La Salle. The La Salle supporters were all dressed in green, the Jesuit supporters in blue. Each group occupied its own section of the stadium. The rivalry couldn’t have been more intense. The atmosphere was rowdy and electric. Since my friend was studying with the Jesuits at the time, he naturally chose to sit with his classmates in the blue section of the stadium. And things would probably have gone well if that was all there was to it. Except that there was a minor complication. You see, although this guy was then attending a Jesuit college, he had previously graduated from a La Salle high school. What to do?
I suppose the politically smart thing to do would have been for him to sit in the blue section, to keep quiet about his earlier affiliation, and to cheer for the Jesuits. Or, if his loyalties were too painfully divided, he could have chosen not to go to the game. He could have watched it on TV instead. But my friend is not a politician. In order to be fair to both teams, he decided to sit with the other Jesuit fans in the blue section while wearing a green t-shirt. Not only that, but he also tried his best to cheer equally for both teams. Can you imagine what it must have been like?
Wearing green in a sea of blue… I’m surprised that he was able to leave the stadium in one piece.
We might say the same about Jesus in today’s gospel, which continues from where we left off last week. As you recall, Jesus is near the beginning of his public ministry. He visits the synagogue in his hometown, where he’s just announced to the people that the Spirit has anointed him to bring glad tidings to the poor. Everyone is thrilled. They want to hear more from him. And then what does Jesus do? He proceeds to antagonize them by talking about foreigners. To a group of enthusiastic Jews, Jesus starts talking about Sidonian widows and Syrian lepers. To proud members of the Chosen People he talks about gentiles being favored by God. It’s as though, like my friend at the ball game, Jesus decides to put on a green shirt while sitting in the blue section. It’s definitely not the politically smart thing to do. What’s even more surprising is that when the people try to kill him, Jesus manages to escape in one piece.
And this is not just a one-off incident. Jesus’ experience in Nazareth provides us with a pattern that characterizes the rest of his ministry. Even after leaving his hometown, Jesus will continue to speak on behalf of the outcaste and the excluded. He will continue to reach out to prostitutes and tax collectors. For, as the scripture scholars tell us, these groups of people are included among the poor to whom Jesus is sent to bring glad tidings. And when the religious authorities finally do succeed in putting him to death, Jesus still manages to escape their evil intentions. He is raised to life on the third day.
Of course, all of this may seem puzzling to us. Why does Jesus insist on antagonizing the authorities? Why does he choose to wear green in a sea of blue? And how does he manage to escape his persecutors when they finally catch up with him? It all doesn’t make much sense, especially when seen from a political perspective. A politician cannot help but be concerned with popularity. But Jesus is not a politician. He was anointed as a prophet. And, as was the case with Jeremiah in the first reading, this is how prophets operate. Like Jesus, Jeremiah too is appointed as God’s messenger even from his mother’s womb. Like Jesus, Jeremiah is called to go to his own people with an unpopular message. He is to tell them to submit to the Babylonian invaders whom God is using as God’s instruments. And, like Jesus, Jeremiah too will suffer rejection and persecution. But, as we heard in the first reading, God promises to protect him, to make him a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass, against the whole land.
What the experiences of Jesus and of Jeremiah demonstrate to us is that, as politically foolish as it may be, it is in the very nature of a prophet to speak the inconvenient word, and to do the unpopular thing, to wear a green shirt while sitting in the blue section. All of this is, of course, far from easy to do. As Christians, we know that it is difficult enough simply to try to fulfill our various Christian duties: to go to Mass at least once every week and on days of obligation, to go to confession whenever we’re conscious of having committed any serious sins, or, in any case, at least once a year. And yet, is this really enough? Is it enough simply to be concerned with these religious practices? Doesn’t the Catechism of the Catholic Church also remind us that when we were anointed with the oil of holy chrism at our baptism, we were incorporated into Christ who was anointed priest, prophet, and king (CCC, 1241)? As baptized Christians, we too are called to be prophets as Jesus was before us. We too are called to speak the inconvenient word and to do the unpopular thing, to gather in those who may be left out by society, whomever these may be: the sick and the aged, the jobless and the homeless, the lonely and the forgotten.
And for us to do this, we need something that both Jesus and Jeremiah enjoyed, the thing that moved Jesus to touch and to heal lepers, even when the Law said that they were to be kept at a distance. This is the spiritual gift about which Paul writes so beautifully in the second reading: If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. Might we not say the same about faithfully attending Mass every Sunday? If we have not love… And it is also through this same gift that the prophets like Jesus and Jeremiah find protection and sustenance, even in the face of death. Love keeps them in one piece, for love never fails.
Sisters and brothers, as baptized Christians and sharers in the prophetic anointing of Christ, how are we being called to wear green in a sea of blue today?