So as to be more available to the graces of the liturgy’s readings,
imagine Jesus’ being grabbed by his former neighbors and hustled out of the
synagogue. They knew him as a lad and his parents were their friends. Jesus
has said something that offended them and he does not retract his words, but
frees himself and disappears. He will face angry crowds often in his life,
but this is the first; he knows what he had to say and he said it.
Whenever the phone rings we can wonder, “now what is this going
to be about!” Good news often is costly; it asks something of us. Our readings
are about call and response. I just made a long-distance call. I said hello
and the party at the other end just hung up. I guess I had the wrong number.
That person missed a great chance to have a stimulating chat.
We pray these days not to hang up on the calls of life, the calls
of God. We pray not to miss the adventures of stimulating conversations with
God through living our faith each moment. We pray also for the grace to stick
with our beliefs, our convictions, when we meet opposition. The good, like
light itself, attempts to penetrate the dark, but the darkness is equally
intent to subdue the light. Being faithful is more than a notion; it is an
action as well. We pray to hear the call, pick up on it, stick with the conversation
and not argue.
It is such a great thing to have somebody come up to us and tell us that
they knew us years ago and how we’ve grown, or that we haven’t changed a bit.
We hear in today’s First Reading that God knew Jeremiah before he was born.
This announcement is more than flattery. This knowledge has more than a history;
it implies a future for which Jeremiah will have to gird his loins for battle.
God calls Jeremiah to expand his life’s experience which will
involve speaking words which will insult the rich and powerful. They will
try to destroy Jeremiah, but the call of God is also a pledge of accompaniment
and fidelity. There will be a struggle within Jeremiah himself and between
Jeremiah and those to whom he has to speak. There will be conflicts which
Jeremiah would rather avoid, but there will be something inside him from which
he has to speak. The “something” is the word of God designed for the betterment
of God’s people. God promises to be with him as well as through him.
Last weekend we heard Jesus’ proclaiming that he was the fulfillment of
the prophecy from Isaiah which he had read in the synagogue among his neighbors
and friends. We continue this story with its twists. The neighbors think they
know him, because they know his father, a normal conclusion. Jesus has some
insulting words for them though.
This is simply a matter of predictability and control. The town’s folk will
expect Jesus to do great things of healing, because he belongs to them; they
know him which should give them some priority. Jesus quotes two different
events from their Scriptures which reverse their expectations. They do not
like what they hear and grow angry to the point of trying to do away with
him. He gives them the slip to do and say those things which will land him
in the hands of other angry people years later.
Years ago, when television was beginning, here in the United States there
were two famous puppet shows. Howdy Doody was a little cowboy character whose
strings were manipulated by a hidden hand. Kukla and Ollie were hand puppets
whose real-live friend was Fran. Other puppets joined in the tensions, excitement
and fun, but all were controlled by somebody behind the scenes. Buffalo Bob
was real and helped Howdy out with his relational struggles. Fran, too, was
real and responded to the puppets’ problems and joys with a great womanly
heart and spirit. These shows were fun, but now we see them as studies in
control/manipulation versus freedom and response.
We can live our lives in a “Don’t rock the boat” ocean of fears and expectations.
In our North American culture we can feel the puppet strings of social, commercial
and political hidden hands. The Word of God is not the only words being spoken
to our minds and hearts. We would like to believe we are free to decide, make
choices have our own minds. There are skilled people who desire to have us
think this way or that and believe we are doing that freely.
The late Father General of the Jesuits, Pedro Arrupe, once told us that
if we Jesuits were not being attacked, even physically, somewhere in the
world, we were not preaching the Gospel. Perhaps one way to know we are free
is in the area of comfortable conformity. Jeremiah, Jesus, you, and I have
heard the Word. Jeremiah and Jesus got into trouble by being and doing who
they were. We struggle to be who we are and live who we are, but there are
strings attached. These strings others are trying to attach and so manipulate
our doings. We live in a constant tangle of these strings and it does take
some close watching of Jesus to free ourselves, at least a little bit.
As a friend of mine once said, “If we don’t stand for something, we’ll fall
for anything.” Popularity, acceptance, conflict-avoidance are all in the mix.
The puppets would fall if the hands let go. Perhaps the big issue is who
holds us up and together.
“Let your face shine on your servant, and save me by your love.
Lord, keep me from shame for I have called to you.” Ps. 31, 17-18