Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 31, 2016
I have a very distinct recollection of the first time I heard this Gospel proclaimed. I was old enough to listen and absorb what I heard, but not so old that I totally understood the message. I was also young enough not to be embarrassed to ask my Gramma, who had taken me to Mass: “How did Jesus get away?” After thinking about it, she replied: “It was a miracle. He just disappeared.” That satisfied me for a long, long time and also left me with an image of Jesus as super hero, like the characters on my favorite TV shows. Certainly, the Resurrected Christ “disappeared from their midst” after celebrating Eucharist in a little village called Emmaus. The Ascension of the Lord is another example of a miraculous vanishing act. And, just possibly, that is exactly what happened. All that Luke tells us is that: “He passed through the midst of them and went away.” We are left to do what Gramma did…ponder the matter.
As an adult, I have pondered the matter, and while I continue to believe the first part of Gramma’s answer…because Jesus’s escape from a murderous crowd was definitely miraculous, the thought that He simply vaporized, to me anyway, is unsettling. It seems in a way to devalue His human nature. Flesh and blood human beings are not capable of that kind of dramatic exit. So I wonder if another possibility might be found in our Second Reading.
Yes! Jesus was fully human, but Jesus was also fully Divine. St. Paul’s beautiful description of love is also a description of Jesus…because Jesus is God and God is love. While our all-powerful God is certainly capable of disappearing in a flash, I wonder if it was the power of love that enabled Jesus to “pass through the midst” of a bloodthirsty mob. Could the sheer power and force of pure love have shielded the Lord, repelling every effort to harm Him? Ponder that some more!
But to be honest, as adults, there is another question that seems more important to me than HOW Jesus managed to escape. WHY were the people of Nazareth so angry? Why did they move so quickly from appreciation to utter hatred? Once again, our Second Reading might offer fodder for a deeper reflection. They were people of faith. After all, this entire episode unfolded in their village synagogue where they were gathered to celebrate the Sabbath. As faithful Jews, they lived in hope…hope that the Messiah would come to liberate. Possibly they were lacking in one thing…LOVE!
Why is this possible? Well, they certainly were not patient with Jesus, and there is nothing kind about their response to Him. In fact, this passage is a perfect example of being “quick-tempered.” Arrogance and jealousy might well have blinded them to the truth that what they had hoped for was standing in their midst…The Messiah. The mob mentality we see here rejoices in wrongdoing. In other words, Nazareth that Sabbath morning appears to have been the antithesis of love. The result was tragic.
The behavior of this faith community offers us a good reality check for our contemporary faith communities. If we do not receive one another with love…if we do not relate to one another with love…all we are doing is “making noise,” and the Lord might well “pass through our midst” and move on…just as Jesus vanished from Nazareth, reappearing in Capernaum where He was received with love.