Sunday, January 31, 2016

Responding to the Word of God

January 31, 2016 ––4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 1:4-5,17-19 / Psalm 71 / 1 Corinthians 12:31–13:13 / Luke 4:21–30
Responding to the Word of God

Can you imagine hearing the written Word of God being read by the living Word himself?

Picking up from last Sunday’s Gospel:

Jesus returned to Galilee [from his Temptation] in the power of the Spirit, and news of him spread throughout the whole region. He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all. 
He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up; and he went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written, 
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news.…
Rolling up the scroll he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
And all spoke highly of him, and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth….

Again, can you imagine hearing the written Word of God being read by the living Word himself?

The Scriptures make big claims about God’s Word. A prominent one in the Old Testament is from from Isaiah: my word… that goes forth from my mouth, shall not return to me empty;  it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)

In the New Testament, the writer to the Hebrews says:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

We would be right to expect a power to be unleashed when the Scriptures are read. Again, what must have it been like to hear Jesus read Scripture?

Well, at first it seems just what we might expect: all spoke highly of him, and were amazed…. But Jesus knows their response is on the surface, and he challenges them on it.

That is the prophetic model recurring again and again in the Bible. In today’s Old Testament reading, God tells Jeremiah that he has been divinely appointed as a prophet, but his message––given with the authority and power of God––will be rejected.

Let’s bring this to today––right where we are. Every week the Scriptures are read here in church. The lector says, The Word of the Lord, and we respond, Thanks be to God. That’s like saying Amen, which essentially means “yes, I affirm that.” But our Amen can be on the surface, like it was that day Jesus read the Scriptures in Nazareth.

Both the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian were “outsiders”.  The hometown folks had an attitude: “we’re good enough and we don’t need change from the outside.” Later in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus contrasts his preaching with the wisdom of Solomon and the preaching of Jonah and then makes a similar point. The Queen of Sheba, a Gentile, heard Solomon and believed. The pagan people of Nineveh heard Jonah and repented. Then Jesus says of himself, something greater than Jonah is here (Luke 11:32). The very thing the Word of God comes to do is to change us. That is why Jesus becomes so confrontational in today’s text. God is always actively at work for our salvation and that means bringing even discomfort when we are holding on to things that hinder us. Our calling is to be holy!

But holiness is not easy in this world. When God’s Word is proclaimed there is a battle going on. Everything that occurs in this visible, physical world is directly connected to a wrestling match being waged in the invisible, spiritual world. C. S. Lewis once wrote: “There is no neutral ground in the universe; every square inch, every split second is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.” This is especially true when God’s Word is going forth to challenge the powers of hell and to seek and save those who are wandering from God.

I have a challenge for all of us: When we come to church to receive God’s Word, or when we hear Scripture in any setting (our daily prayers, Gospel Reflections, Bible study, personal Bible reading), let’s remember, in the imagery of Jesus’ parable of the four soils, that there are “birds” who want to come and eat the seed before it can take root. There are “weeds” that, if not tended, will smother any good fruit. When we place ourselves before God’s Word, it is good to remember that “to be faithful to God requires a constant battle…. in one small thing after another, without giving in” (St Josemaria Escriva). God has made us so that our response to his Word affects the power it has in our lives.

In a world that usually has too much noise to hear God––a world that often dismisses or even ridicules the idea of God speaking his Word––please hear the message today: Listen…. not only with your ears and mind, but with your heart.

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