Readings: Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19; Psalm 70; 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13; Luke 4:21-30
It is possible to read the text of Paul’s ‘hymn to love’ (today’s second reading) replacing the word ‘love’ with the name ‘Jesus’. It still makes perfect sense and is still completely true. It is also interesting – and now also salutary – to replace the word ‘love’ with your own name and see to what extent it still rings true.
We believe that Jesus is the human face of God and that God is love. So why does Jesus experience the reception he does in his hometown? People spend a lot of their time thinking about love, wanting to be loved, reading about love, and singing songs about it. Yet when love itself appeared among them, human beings crucified it. The English Dominican theologian and preacher Herbert McCabe writes that people who don’t love are not fully alive but that people who do love are killed. Jesus, the most human of human beings, loved simply and completely and so was put to death. Why should it be so?
Perhaps one part of the problem is that we inevitably set boundaries to our love. We are prepared to sacrifice, but only to a certain point or for certain people. We are prepared to trust, but only to a certain extent. We are prepared to include others, but within reason and according to rules that seem to make sense. In fact, our most intense experiences of love seem to be the most exclusive, as much about ourselves, and what we need, as they are about the other person and how we might serve them.
In his preaching at Nazareth, as in his life and work as a whole, Jesus challenges this setting of boundaries. He recalls moments when the grace of God manifested itself not within the borders of Israel, to ‘God’s own people’, but outside those borders, to foreigners and pagans. When people try to speak about this thrust of God’s love to choose all and include everybody, it can seem like wishy-washy philanthropy. Yet Jesus died for all: ‘I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself’. And he teaches us to extend our love to all people – not only to family and friends but also to strangers and enemies.
It is a great mystery, that he came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who do receive him, who believe in his name, he gives power to become children of God.
First published in The Pastoral Review, January-February 2007