Homily of H.E. Mons. Claudio Gatti of January 28, 2007
1st reading: Jer 1:4-5, 17-19; Psalm 70; 2nd reading: 1 Cor 12:31, 13:1-13; Gospel: Lk 4:16-30
In the days of King Josiah, the word of the Lord was addressed to me: "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, I set you apart before you were born; I have established you as a prophet of the nations. As for you, get ready! Stand up and tell them everything that I’ve commanded you. Don’t be frightened as you face them, or I’ll frighten you right in front of them. As for me, today I’m making you a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall against the whole land - against the kings of Judah, against its princes, against its priests, and against the people of the land. They’ll fight against you, but they won’t prevail against you, because I am with you,” declares the Lord, “to rescue you" (Jer 1:4-5, 17-19).
Today, before us, the figure of prophet Jeremiah stands out in a gigantic way. A gentle, shy man, a lover of tranquility, eager for a peaceful and worry-free life. But to him the Lord reserved an existence quite full of sufferings and contradictions too: He asked him, for example, to remain celibate, hence he had to give up forming a family, in a world where the realization of man was represented by the wedding. The prophet is the one who humbly manifests and elaborates the words coming from God in order to proclaim to mankind the will and wish of the Lord, that is, the prophecy. This prophet is called by God before he begins to live and Jeremiah with much sincerity, clearly and plainly, is aware of this call. But the call to be a prophet often feeds on tears, suffering and blood. It seems that Jeremiah, for faithfully proclaiming the word of God, after having met so much hostility and persecution, ended his life with martyrdom because he was troublesome. Prophets are always troublesome because God sends them to carry out missions and tasks little appreciated by men because they warn, reproach or indicate to follow a different existence from the one men are living. Jeremiah, aware of this call, knows that he has been prepared by the Lord to carry out such a task. The Jewish mentality was an exclusive mentality, that is to say the actions of God, the words of God, the gestures of God were valid only within the Jewish people and never went beyond the people themselves. On the contrary, Jeremiah is aware that his mission stands in real and effective contrast with all other peoples and with all other kingdoms as well; we can then imagine that if it is difficult to be a prophet in his own people, it is, even more so, in peoples different from the one he belongs to. This great prophet is placed in a dimension announcing the messianic age; he must get ready for this difficult task, as men must be solicited, changed and invited to convert and this creates difficulties, creates confusion, raises obstacles and lowers and digs ditches. Jeremiah must face all these situations and God is only one to gives him strength, admonishing and urging him to proceed with courage in carrying out his mission because He will give him everything he needs to accomplish it. If, out of weakness, the prophet should show fear in front of the people to whom God sends him, fear will be the punishment of the Lord because Jeremiah did not believe that God would give him the necessary strength to go forward. A prophet, however, does not only need strength and energy as Paul says in the letter to the Corinthians: the true prophet is one who lives and carries out his own prophetic ministry with Love and in Love. St. Paul extends the discussion to those who do not have a strict prophetic mission, but because they are baptized, they too participate in the royal and priestly prophetic dignity of Christ. If Christ is King, if Christ is Prophet, it is logical that also the people who are united with Him and who are one with Him are equally endowed with prophetic, royal and priestly dignity. The Holy Spirit gives his Church a huge, amazing and marvelous quantity of charismata. St. Paul, however, intervenes again and admonishes by saying that all charismata that raise man and seem particularly high are not as great as the gift and charism of Love and Charity. In this passage, Paul probably writes his most beautiful, lyrical, deeper and richer page: the hymn to love. We have talked about it many times and by reading it again you will certainly remember everything you have heard about it.
Keep on desiring the better gifts. And now I will show you the best way of all. If I speak in the languages of humans and angels but have no love, I have become a reverberating gong or a clashing cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can understand all secrets and every form of knowledge, and if I have absolute faith so as to move mountains but have no love, I am nothing. Even if I give away everything that I have and sacrifice myself but have no love, I gain nothing. Love is always patient; love is always kind, love is never envious or arrogant with pride. Nor is she conceited, and she is never rude; she never thinks just of herself or ever gets annoyed. She never is resentful; is never glad with sin; she’s always glad to side with truth, and pleased that truth will win. She bears up under everything; believes the best in all; there is no limit to her hope, and never will she fall. Love never fails. Now if there are prophecies, they will be done away with. If there are languages, they will cease. If there is knowledge, it will be done away with. For what we know is incomplete and what we prophesy is incomplete. But when what is complete comes, then what is incomplete will be done away with. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, thought like a child, and reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up my childish ways. Now we see only an indistinct image in a mirror, but then we will be face to face. Now what I know is incomplete, but then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. Right now three things remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love! (1Cor 12:31, 13:1-13).
Love is more important than courage because Love implies courage, but not necessarily courage implies Love; one can be courageous and devoid of Love; one is always full of Love and at the same time full of courage. The loving prophet goes on in his path; he can fall, for in him there is frailty, exhaustion, human weakness. Remember also the great prophet Elijah who was exhausted by persecutions from the wicked queen Jezebel, he fled in order not to be taken prisoner by the guards sent after him, but when he reached the height of exhaustion, he threw himself down on the ground, under a plant and said: "It is enough! Now, o Lord, take my life". Exhausted, he fell into a deep sleep and God let him rest, then he aroused him through an angel who gave him bread, the image of the Eucharist, and water and invited him to eat, to take some nourishment, to recover strength and move forward. You should not be shocked if the prophet is sometimes tired, tried and exhausted, it is normal to be like that. I told you about Elijah but I could remind you of Jesus, the greatest Prophet, the son of God, the Savior when he was exhausted, tired, thirsty and came to Jacob's well and asks for some water to be refreshed and quench his great thirst. Of course we are talking about physical thirst. Here you have before you, as an example, the great Prophet Jesus, true God and true Man and Prophet Elijah. Any prophet, believe me, just like them, experiences dejection and exhaustion and the moment always comes when he feels crushed on a well, feels crushed before the tabernacle or while celebrating the Holy Mass says: "Lord this is enough, I am exhausted, I cannot stand it anymore". And the Lord gives new strength, gives new energy to continue the journey and the first to be surprised is really the prophet who says: "Before I felt weakness within me and now I feel the return of strength to go forward". What can the community do for a prophet? They can protect him, they can help him, they can plead God so that the mission he carries out in such a painful way can be realized as soon as possible. Often, in his path, the prophet meets the cross, meets the immolation, just as Christ did. Christ died on the cross, but before He died, He, especially, experienced attacks and persecutions. The passage from the Gospel of Luke we have read today contains one of the critical moments in our Lord’s life.
Then Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been raised. As was his custom, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day. When he stood up to read, the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he has anointed me to tell the good news to the poor. He has sent me to announce release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set oppressed people free, and to announce the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. While the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him, he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled, as you’ve heard it read aloud.”
All the people began to speak well of him and to wonder at the gracious words that flowed from his mouth. They said, “This is Joseph’s son, isn’t it?”
So he told them, “You will probably quote this proverb to me, ‘Doctor, heal yourself! Do everything here in your hometown that we hear you did in Capernaum.’ He added, “I tell all of you with certainty, a prophet is not accepted in his hometown. I’m telling you the truth - there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when it didn’t rain for three years and six months and there was a severe famine everywhere in the land. Yet Elijah wasn’t sent to a single one of those widows except to one at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the Prophet Elisha’s time, yet not one of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”
All the people in the synagogue became furious when they heard this. They got up, forced Jesus out of the city, and led him to the edge of the hill on which their city was built, intending to throw him off. But he walked right through the middle of them and went away (Lk 4:16-30).
He recognized that the prophet is not accepted by his own people in his homeland, he immediately experienced it on his person, because his fellow citizens, annoyed by the true words that Jesus had addressed to them, wanted to kill him by throwing him into a ravine. But his hour had not yet come, so he avoided that danger, but he prepared to get on the cross. After the cross we see a stronger light, more intense than the northern dawn, more beautiful than a sun shining in the meridian at noon, more powerful than any light invented by men because it is the dawning Resurrection, which begins to illuminate the Earth. The prophet’s Resurrection joins Christ’s Resurrection and forms one single unit. The prophet suffers, dies and rises again because Christ suffered, died and rose again. Behold, you must accompany your prophets to the grave and witness their Resurrection.
Praised be Jesus Christ.