Jesus puts before us a way of transformation to eternal life
By: By Sister Rachel Bergschneider
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feb. 3
Jeremiah 1:4-5,17-19; Psalm 71:1-2,3-4,5-6,15-17; 1 Corinthians 12:31 — 13:13; Luke 4:21-30
The readings for this Sunday present a difficult side of human nature. I suspect we have all experienced someone turning on us. It could have been in elementary school, where one of our friends decided that we were no longer acceptable in the crowd. It could have been at work, when someone passed rumors about us to other co-workers. It could have been someone as close to us as a spouse who was overcome with jealousy or anger. Whatever the case, it is not a great experience.
In both the first reading and the Gospel a description of generosity and openness toward others turns to defensive and selfish reactions. The beautiful words of the Lord, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you” speak of the gift of Jeremiah’s creation. They are followed by the difficulty of his plight: “They will fight against you but not prevail over you.”
In the Gospel, Jesus is concluding the passage from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind”(Isaiah 61:1-2), and the people were very taken with Him. But the mood changed when Jesus pointed out that salvation is not for the Jewish people only; it is for all. They did not like that. They were filled with fury, trying to hurl Him headlong over the brow of the hill.
How quickly we can turn from our sense of generosity and acceptance of others to defensiveness and cruelty! How instantly we can put up our guard to protect ourselves and our point of view!
The second reading provides us with the Lord’s idea. It is love and the demands of love that help us live generously. St. Paul, in this second letter to the Corinthians, puts forward the particulars of what loving is all about. “Love is patient, love is kind. Love is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interest. . . .” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)
There is a story Franciscan Father Richard Rohr tells quoting Sara Ruddick, who speaks of the call to love and generosity. “Mothers are characterized by attentive love. They have to keep watching this new life; they have to keep listening and adjusting to the needs of the child. It is necessary to recognize a new agenda with the growth of the child. If the mother cannot transform herself into attentive love, she quite simply cannot be a mother.
She has to learn early on that life is about change, not about standing her ground, which is not going to help a child. All growth is about changing and adjusting to what is needed at this moment, with these tears, and by this child. The mother cannot run to abstract truths.”
Jesus asked the Jewish people to change, to be inclusive. He was rejected because His words did not fit into the way things were for them.
The challenge of Jesus is set before us as it was with the Jewish people of His time. It is characterized by attentive love instead of stubborn righteousness. It keeps watch on the call of new life within instilled by the challenge of Jesus to learn the best of who we are. It is, ultimately, a way of life modeled on the total self-giving of Jesus.
Jesus’ mission was not to give us everything we want, but to put before us the way of transformation into eternal life. Without this kind of love, we simply cannot be Christian.
SISTER RACHEL Bergschneider, OSB, is a member of the Sisters of St. Benedict of St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island. She serves as pastoral associate at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Peoria Heights.