Sunday, January 31, 2010

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
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?


  1. Fr Chris, surely there's a world of difference between reaching out to outcasts with sympathy vs. cheering them on?

    Perhaps there are a few who became outcasts for the wrong reasons (i.e. traditional wisdom is wrong and these radicals are right). In which case, we could be called to plead for their cause or even take their side against the rest of the world.

    However, I can't imagine Jesus saying to the adulterous woman, "How is that a sin? Go and do some more. Three cheers for sexual freedom!" Neither can I envision Zacchaeus telling the world, "Look, Jesus loves me too. I've done nothing wrong. I'll continue defrauding people. They asked for it."

  2. I wonder who sets the standards for "outcasts".... is it the ones who feel marginalised and suffering, or the ones excluding them from the Lord's table?

    Looking back (during a recent retreat )and recalling my own sinful separation from God - being blind, deaf and hard-hearted to his call of love, I can only be thankful that Jesus DID cheer me on as a PERSON loved by God, though I'd be the one to throw stones at the outcast in myself...

    Only a genuine outcast meeting the loving compassion of the anointed Lord can testify to the transforming power of Love, and the desire to help others experience God's light.

    If only I have a fraction of that tender mercy towards those labelled as tax collectors and sinners in my world. God help the unforgiving judge in each one of us.....

    We need more present-day prophets who are not afraid to speak God's truth in love, and then allow God to be the real judge and healer of our frail human hearts and misguided strivings. Shalom.

  3. "Go and sin no more." John 8:11

    "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." Matthew 3:2

    "If your brother sins (against you), go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that 'every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector." Matthew 18:15-17

    "He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, 'Take these out of here, and stop making my Father's house a marketplace.' " John 2:15-16

    It's funny that the number one sin today is "discrimination" and not the sins that Jesus spoke of. Love and Truth is not one-sided. Neither are they so fragile that one cannot disagree or make distinctions. God is mercy and justice. As we are made in God's image, we also called to both merciful and just. Those who only want to talk and hear of Jesus' agreeable lovey-dovey side seems to be rejecting the whole truth and being indiscriminate.

  4. True compassion, rather than being wishy-washy, is a love stronger than the death blow dealt by strong condemnation, a love believing fervently that in the heart of every sinner and outcast, there's a core of goodness that God is able to reach.

    Compassion urges us to go where it hurts, to enter places of pain, share in my brother's brokenness, fear, confusion, anguish; cry out with those in misery, mourn with those who are lonely, weep with those in tears, be weak with the weak, be vulnerable and powerless in solidarity with my "outcast" friends.

    Very often, we are quick to mouth the strong words of the Son of Man who urges repentence without the same compassion Jesus has- spewing judgement from the head divorced from mercy in the heart. A true prophet feels the pain of the exiled people of God- for they are his own brothers and sisters in need of God's love and forgiveness.

    Though reminded that I am made in the image of the Trinity, I fall far short of that dignity- so far short that I do not presume to raise a whip of cord at my fellow human beings.

    Contemplating God's rescue mission set in motion for me even as I slipped and fell down the slippery slope some 20 years ago, and still paying for my mistake in the lives of my loved ones, I see how the "blessing" of being a realised sinner and outcast has led me to a deeper contrition and conversion.
    God's love is infinitely greater than my worst sin!

    Thus awakened, I become one with others who are separated from God's love, and could no longer point my finger at another's weakness without seeing my own need for mercy.

    Sinner yet loved. The seed of compassion planted, growing side by side with the weeds of judgement in me. God is not finished with me yet....I just have to remember not to keep watering the weeds....

    :) Shalom to the sinner and outcast in each one of us....

  5. Are there only two options: strong condemnation and uncritical acceptance? Is there no middle path?

  6. The middle ground?
    Accept the sinner,
    Condemn the sin,
    Weeds and wheat
    alongside growing;
    Created Love illuminating,
    Separated love purifying,
    till day of harvesting,
    Unifying Love embracing,
    Father and son facing,
    Prodigal love outpouring,
    Threefold path-
    Lenten cleansing,
    Calvary's gifting,
    Spirit uniting...
    God's labyrinth of Love
    ever unfolding
    deeper and deeper
    forever and ever,

    Shalom :)


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