(Ordinary Time – Cycle C)
1 Corinthians 12,31-13,13
The biblical readings for this Sunday invite us to reflect on the dramatic character that has within it, all authentic prophetic vocation. Each prophet is called by God to irradiate with his word and his behavior the presence of the Truth and of the “Meaning” in the midst of history. His proclamation and his witness, nevertheless, many times he has to confront himself the hardness of the human heart and sin present in the structures of the world, making it that the prophetic vocation becomes a true martyrdom for the sake of God and men and women. Jeremiah, sign of contradiction in his land, is an anticipation of Jesus, sign of contradiction in Nazareth. Jeremiah, despite betrayal and terror, will announce all of his life the Word; Jesus, despite the rejection of Nazareth’s citizens, begins his ministry of hope and of salvation. Also, the believer, despite the frequent silence of God and of men and women, is called to continue his spiritual itinerary, welcoming the difficult but fruitful journey of fidelity and of hope.
The first reading (Jer 1,4-5.17-19) is taken from the known vocation account of the prophet Jeremiah, that begins with a solemn affirmation that in Hebrew sounds literally so: “the word of Yahweh happened in me” (v. 4). There is not a temporal or spatial indication. All of the weight in the Word falls on the prophet as it is communicated to him. The Word creates vocation and will be from now on the only decisive reality in the existence of the call. In the 5th verse the action of God is underlined, through three verbs: “to form”, “to know,” and “to consecrate.” The principle action nevertheless is affirmed at the end: “I have appointed you as prophet to the nations.” Everything converges together for this last affirmation. God’s decision is very ancient. It is not produced in a moment, nor is it based on the personal offering of man and woman. God has thought of Jeremiah before his birth. His election is total gratuity. The expression, “I knew you” indicates the intimate relationship between the Lord and his prophet, intimacy that expresses itself through the communication of the Word that constitutes as prophet the young Jeremiah. The phrase “I consecrated you,” that contains the Hebrew qadash in his causative form that means: “to separate”, “to put to the side something for a religious use,” indicates that God has reserved himself the person of Jeremiah through a special relationship of pertinence. He has consecrated it for him. Has consecrated him to send him to women and men with a determined mission, to announce the Word on God’s behalf, to be “prophet to the nations.”
Jeremiah has been consecrated and sent by God to “speak” to men and women: “Stand up and tell them all that I command you” (V. 17). The Word is sovereign. It manifests its divine character by the fact that it presents itself under the imperative to the prophet, exacting unconditional obedience. The prophet experiences the mission and the weight of this responsibility. All of his existence is placed under the mandate of God: “and tell them all that I command you.” The peculiarity of the prophet vocation is, therefore, that of speaking to others. The personal acceptation of the Word is not enough. The prophet is sent to others, he has to confront men and women, above all those that possess a position of authority in the society. For this reason, it is normal that the prophet experiences fear. For this God tells him: “Do not be afraid” (1,8), “Do not be dismayed at their presence” (1,17). Fear is not strange for a prophetic vocation, but even more is the place where his mission is born and matures. It is the place in which God reveals himself as an unmistakable mandate (“you will tell them all that I command you”), but also as promise and strength (1,19: “they shall not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you”). It is not simply that God will intervene exteriorly to save the prophet and defend him from the attacks of the adversaries. That which saves the prophet is the word that he pronounces. The prophet finds strength precisely in the fact of speaking in the name of God. Obedience to the Word permits him to come out from the fear of death; in faith, he rejoices in the certainty of the presence of the God of life. In this way, the prophet becomes “a fortified city, a pillar of iron, and a wall of bronze” (1,18). That which saves the prophet is the word that he proclaims, it is the presence of God in the same word. His valiant and free speaking represents the victory over the powers of death and of sin. In this way he also overcomes his own fear. The prophetic word of Jeremiah, anguished and critical of his society and of his religious environs, as all prophets, creates a tension, generates a conflict that reveals the power of the world’s ideologies that are opposed to God’s plan. The rejection of hearing God’s voice is equivocated, in concrete, to the violent opposition that is displayed still today against prophets. The vocation of the prophet is therefore, very close to the martyr’s vocation that suffers a violent death. The witness of martyrdom is that supreme speech in which it is affirmed that life conquers death.
The second reading (1 Cor 12,31-13,13) contains the celebrated “hymn to charity,” in which Paul exposes a “way that is better” (12,31), that is superior to all gifts and serves as a criteria to judge all other charisms, the first fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5,22). The Pauline text can be structured in three verses that describe, each one, the sublimity, of love – agape (a) without love the best things are reduced to nothing (1 Cor 13,1-2); (b) love is the source of all goods (1 Cor 13,4-7); (c) love is already present and will be eternally (1 Cor 13,8-13).
The gospel (Lk 4,21-30) narrates the second part of the inaugural scene of the ministry of Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth. After the attentive and filled with stupor welcome before the words of Jesus (see the commentary of last Sunday), the scene becomes a dramatic anticipation of the history of the Passion. The change in the audience is due to Jesus’ intervention that interprets the feelings of those present. The cited proverb (“Physician, heal yourself”, v. 23), indicates that the habitants of Nazareth waited for not only words, but also deeds: they wanted to see some of the same prodigies that Jesus had done in Capernaum. They waited for a miraculous “show” of their co-citizen. But Jesus responds to them with another saying: “No prophet is ever accepted in his own country,” making it understood that in Nazareth he would not bring about any miracle.
The words of Jesus in vv. 25-27, alluding to the prophetic histories of Elijah and Elisha, unmask subtly the peoples’ intention. The authentic prophet does not look to satisfy the pleasure of his audience, no allow himself to be closed in by national conditions or in those of blood. He is above all free, as the Word is sovereign that he proclaims. In these verses indirectly he alludes also to the passage of preaching salvation to the non-Jews. Jesus has already worked in foreign territory (Capernaum), and a day of salvation will not be offered to Israel, that rejects it, but to the pagans (Acts 13,46; 28,28).
Naaman, the Syrian, and the widow of Zarepath, symbolize the conditions that permit a prophet to manifest the power of the Word, and that permit, therefore, Jesus to bring about miracles and cures. Naaman is a man that learns to obey and to trust, abandoning himself without scruples to the ways of God, deposing his self-sufficiency and his nationalistic pride before the words of the prophet Elisha (2 K 5,1-14); the widow of Zarepath, is a woman that trust in God and risks her life and that of her son, without even knowing Elijah, a foreigner with which she shares the little she has to live (1 K 17,1-9). The faith that carries the confident abandonment in God (Naaman) and that makes us capable of risking that which we are and have (the widow of Zarepath) is the faith that Jesus impels and that many times has made him proclaim after a miracle: “your faith has saved you!”
The intervention of Jesus in Nazareth concludes with the revolt of those present that intend to kill him, but without being able (Lk 4,29-30). The account concludes with this phrase: “he slipped through the crowd and walked away” (V. 30). He went away. Where? Toward the mission that the Holy Spirit had consecrated him for. First to Capernaum, then to Galilee, and finally to Jerusalem, now that a prophet has to die in Jerusalem (Lk 13,13). But not even death can stop him. Jesus goes about announcing the gospel of the kingdom through his disciples, “unto the ends of the earth” (Acts 1,8). Many men and women in the entire world, as in other times like Naaman the Syrian and the widow of Zarepath, will experience the therapeutic and saving action of Jesus and of his gospel. In Nazareth this was not possible. Jesus, the consecrated prophet by the Spirit, to “announce the good news to the poor,” does not know limits. His word will reach unlimited horizons in the measure in which the gospel is proclaimed and lived. Jesus is “the great prophet that has risen up in our midst, through which God has visited his people” (Lk 4,17). As all authentic prophets, neither he has allowed himself to be conditioned by the expectations of men and women, nor has he let himself become enclosed by immediate urgencies. As a true prophet, he has not feared death, rather “he slipped through the crowd and walked away” (v. 30), journeying docile to the Word and to the spirit. The triumph of the prophet is not in being welcomed by men and women, but in being obedient and faithful to the received mission.