Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feb. 3, 2019.)

The prophet Jeremiah writes “they will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”

We see these words resonate in the life of Jesus right from the very beginning of his public ministry. You may recall the Gospel passage from last week’s liturgy. Filled with the Spirit, Jesus enters the synagogue of Nazareth, his home town. He reads from the Isaiah scroll: “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.”

After reading the passage, he hands the scroll back to the attendant while all are looking intently at him, awaiting his next words. Jesus then says: “Today, this passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

At first, all are amazed. But then some start to question him: “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” In other words, “Can he really mean what he is saying?” or “Is he claiming to be the Messiah, the anointed one, the Christ?” Jesus’ passion begins with the very start of his ministry.

Jesus continues to engage the crowd in the synagogue. He hears their questions and reads their hearts, saying, “No prophet is accepted in his own native place.” He continues by drawing two famous examples from Israelite history where foreigners or gentiles had accepted the prophetic word, while the native population had failed to do so. The widow of Sidon and Naaman the Syrian are the two people he gives as examples.

At this point, the crowd that was at first “amazed” are now filled with fury. They rush Jesus out of the synagogue, attempting “to hurl him down headlong” off the cliff on which their town had been built. “But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.” The words of Jeremiah echo: “they will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”

The passage from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians used as today’s second reading is a familiar one. Many, if not most, couples choose this reading as part of the wedding liturgy. The reading proclaims and describes love. St. Paul writes: “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

It is this love that is poured out on Jesus by the Father. The Father loves the Son and delivers him from the crowd. Jesus in turn loves the Father and places his trust in him. He speaks boldly and confidently in the synagogue, for he speaks the truth. He does so as the Father’s anointed and the Father’s voice in the world.

At the same time, that love shared between the Father and the Son is poured forth upon the people whom Jesus is sent. He is here to reveal the Father to them. Not all will accept this revelation, but Jesus is not deterred. He loves. Jesus’ love for the Father and for his people will become fully manifest in his willingness to lay down his life at the proper time.

All the faithful have a share in the mission of Jesus. We are the recipients of his love and are called to share that love with everyone. Living in the world today as a Christian striving to live a God-centered life will be challenging and for some this may entail rejection. However, the Father never rejects. Rather, he draws us deeper into his love through faith. Jesus carries on in his mission with complete trust in the Father’s fidelity. His faith is rooted in love. So too for the faithful Christian today.


Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.