“One day Jesus was preaching in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. Sensing opposition to his words, Jesus said, ‘Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place.’ Thereupon the people became angry and violent.” From Luke 4:24-30.
I am in my mid-50s— 56 to be precise. People my age may remember that during our high school years there were some intense talks between Anwar Sadat of Egypt and other world leaders, both here in the United States and around the Middle East.
I am sure that I did not realize how important these talks were. But I wonder what may have happened if outsiders didn't stop them from bearing fruit. The story of Sadat seems to tie in so well with that which is the Gospel suggested for today, Monday of the third week of Lent.
Luke 4 shows Jesus returning to his hometown of Nazareth, preaching a rather intense and courageous sermon at the local synagogue. He challenged them to think differently, but certainly not to think in opposition to their faith. The reaction of the people he knew and grew up with become so violent against him that they nearly did him bodily harm. They had their minds made up and that was it.
For the sake of those who have never heard of Anwar Sadat, the short story is that Mr. Sadat stood up to his friends and countrymen, insisting that Muslims and Jews can live in peace. What they had to forgo was a “win/lose” position. The reaction was not good. Muslim extremists gunned down Sadat in a hail of gunfire as he reviewed a Cairo parade. It was a mess.
The idea of speaking out that ancient enemies can become respectful friends living in a local geography somehow touched both the heart of a peace-seeking world and became a sign of rage for those who desire the annihilation of an entire people.
The causes of hatred are deep, ancient, and beyond me (and likely you, too.) But for a person to simply reach out and state that he prefers to live in peace, offering respect in place of hate is inspiring.
The difference is that when we meet in the middle, with no “winners” and “losers” it seems to back some people into a corner. Some see this as “wishy-washy” when that is never the intent.
Neutral and nice don't change lives. Principle does. Never once was it suggested that one's faith had to be set aside. Rather, it was faith that was called to preserve the vision of what God wants. What an example to leadership!
Today on this Lenten day, you and I are asked to review the contents of our hearts. Today we are asked by Jesus himself to honestly identify what makes our hearts less authentic, cold, stoic and hardened to opportunities to make our lives and those of others better. Where do we stand in the ways of God?
Jesus only asked his fellow neighbors to be aware that doing the will of God insists on being grounded on the vision of the heavenly Father. It means holding nothing back. It means that God comes first and then the blessing is permitted.
As many of us in ministry witness this every day, the most generous people in our congregations are those who have limited resources. They seem to give from their scarcity, not their surplus. The truly poor offer what they have to be at the service of God. This is courage at its finest.
But let us also note what Jesus does not say in today's Gospel. He never says that those with resources can't be the hands and heart of God. They can, and must! It means, however, that the faithful with resources of time, talent, and treasure must see these as blessings to share, and blessings which were bestowed upon them to share appropriately. They have an obligation to promote health, justice and hope. What a privileged opportunity!
Sadat paid the price for being a “prophet” in his “hometown.” Standing up for positive change is hard, and often lonely. Jesus' goal was to begin a positive change for the sake of the good of souls. To do that, Jesus had to own the fact that in the process, his popularity would suffer. And, obviously, in some circles, it did.
In 1431, a humble and good priest in Bohemia, St. John of Kanty, was falsely accused of some infraction of the law. Previously a notable professor at a university, he was “demoted” to be a simple parish pastor in a small town. Eventually, he was exonerated of the alleged infraction and returned to his former assignment as a great and well-respected teacher of philosophy.
During those days after his good name being returned, he was noted to have said: “Fight all error, but do it with good humor, patience, kindness and love. Harshness will damage your soul and spoil the best cause.”
Jesus does not want us to be rabble-rousers and troublemakers. Far from it. But he needs us to be courageous to stand up for what is virtuous and right, here in our own towns, neighborhoods and within our families. Taking a principled stance may not make us popular, but if it is of God, it will change lives for the better.
What a frightening day for Jesus. What a terrible loss in the conversation for peace in the Middle East. What a heart-crushing time in the life of a good priest.
But with courage, they did what was right and will live in eternal memory as choosing the righteous path.
May God also grant us all the courage needed to strive to be holy and just. By doing so, just imagine how history will remember us.
The Rev. Mark Hoffman is pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle and St. Elizabeth Catholic churches, Corry.