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Jesus was not a careerist

January 11, 2014

Luke 4: 14-22                                         Thursday after The Epiphany 2014


Luke’s gospel today is another ‘Epiphany’ story’, with Jesus revealing his true identity in the synagogue. Jesus is now a man with a reputation for being unconventional – He is “unlike the scribes, He taught them with authority”[1].

So in what way is He not like the scribes? Well, the scribes had no authority of their own, they worked for the priests. Their primary function was to write out copies of the Jewish Scriptures and then they taught people the law. Asking the opinion of a scribe about the law was a bit like asking a lawyer for advice. You’ll get the letter of the law, but don’t be surprised if their advice is joyless and unhelpful.

On the other hand, people delight at what Jesus says. A fresh interpretation. In a similar way, I suppose, to the people’s reaction to Pope Francis. Well, in his case, it’s an example of the Holy Spirit at work. And with the Holy Spirit we should expect the unexpected. We saw it with John XIII, then John Paul II, then Benedict. And now another completely unexpected Pope, this time someone who is an outsider, someone who has spent his life on the other side of the world, working in parishes where poverty really means poverty.

In his latest letter to the Church[2] it’s clear that Pope Francis is unconventional. He uses his authority to over-rule the pessimists who have been interpreting the Scriptures to make rules and regulations that have alienated and excluded many, many people, a self-righteous inward-looking elite, out of touch with ordinary people, insensitive to the hurt and frustration they are causing in parishes around the world. The Holy Father calls such pessimists ‘sourpusses’.

In today’s gospel we see that Jesus is different – He claims authority over the law, teaching people how to live in response to God. Jesus’ style infuriates the traditionalists, but enthralls the people. Jesus uses ordinary language and meaningful examples to proclaim the arrival of the Kingdom of God. Jesus “experience as a son of God tells him that the message of the sacred texts is already being revealed, fully and decisively.”[3]

That Jesus read an extract from the Prophet Isaiah is significant. Our Lord didn’t spend His time interpreting the law like the scribes and Pharisees – He does not read from the Torah, the Books of the Hebrew Bible that detail the Law. No, He reads a prophecy:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

Having read from the scriptures, Jesus then follows a pattern that continues to this day: He preaches a homily to explain what He has just read. And He says a shocking thing to the people of His hometown:

“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

What? Yes, people have seen the miracles, they’ve seen how he shuns the rich for the poor, heals the sick, eats with outcasts. In effect He is telling the people of his home town, ‘I am the Messiah promised by Isaiah!’

All this is shocking to those who do not want to see the scriptures in that light. As I was saying yesterday, their reaction is going to be pretty predictable: because of cognitive dissonance they are going to ignore the evidence that shouts out that Jesus is indeed fulfilling the prophecies of the Scriptures. These traditionalists are going to do their utmost to remove this man who comes from an obscure place called Nazareth, has little experience of Jerusalem, has not been taught by the great Jewish teachers, and so is a completely unqualified upstart. If necessary they will do away with this upstart who mixes with the poor and with the common people rather than spending His time lording it over other people, making a career out of being a religious leader.

Being a true Christian, following Jesus’ example in our ordinary lives, is not an easy option. We need help if we are to remain true to what He teaches. In Nazareth Jesus reveals His true identity to us, and we now, in faith, publicly side with Him, proclaiming Him the Messiah and our Saviour. That’s why we’re here, to feed on His word and on His Body, to get that inner strength He promises to the faithful.

[1] Mark 1:22

[2] Evangelii Gaudium 2013

[3] Jose Pagola (2009) Jesus, an historical approximation. Continuum, Miami, Florida. page 235

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