Not compromising the truth - Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > Not compromising the truth - Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

This Gospel reading continues on from the reading we had last Sunday. You may recall last Sunday's reading - Jesus after commencing his public ministry around the fishing villages on the shore of the Sea of Galilee returns to his home town, Nazareth. No doubt news of him had already reached his village - that he had begun a ministry of preaching and teaching, that extraordinary miracles had occurred. At the Saturday morning Synagogue service he is invited to address the congregation.

Jesus accepted their offer and when handed the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah found a particular reading and read it out: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me .. he has sent me to bring good news to the poor ...."  Then following the reading he sat down. We are told that all eyes of the Synagogue were fixed on him in anticipation. He had chosen this particular reading. They waited for his comments. Then he said simply, with calm assurance, "This text is being fulfilled even as you listen." Then he began to preach. Our Gospel today takes up what happened next.

We are told that “he won the admiration of all”. The people were amazed as he spoke. His words both surprised and moved them. They had not heard this sort of preaching before.

But then some began to voice resistance. Wait a minute - who is this? He is just the son of the local carpenter. Where did he get all this? Who does he think he is? Murmuring had begun. People started to query what he was saying. Doubts entered people's minds. They turned more to questioning his right to preach and stopped listening to what he was saying.

It is worth just taking a moment to consider the damage that can be done by murmuring, by scepticism, by unreasonable criticism. It can be so destructive – and in this case it was. As Christians we seek to build up not tear down, we seek to affirm and not negate, we recognize and affirm the good and don’t focus solely on the less-than-good. Sadly in this case murmur, criticism and scepticism turned the people away from their openness to what Jesus was saying to them. How easy it is for murmur to undo the good.

Clearly Jesus sensed this and he challenged them. His first reference was to a common saying: “Physician heal thyself”. In other words - don't tell us what to do, but look at yourself. This may have been because Jesus would have spoken about the Kingdom of God and restated his common theme in his early his preaching - repent for the Kingdom of God in close at hand. They resented him calling on them to correct their lives and their faith.

Secondly, he made reference to their knowledge of his miracles. Some were probably thinking if he can do miracles down in Capernaum then why is he not doing them here?  They were thinking, “We want to see some miracles.”

In other words, the people of his home town became hypercritical and closed their minds. Jesus then challenged them by speaking about two stories from the Scriptures. Stories they would have known - one concerned the prophet Elijah and one his successor, Elisha. In both instances miracles were worked not among the Jewish people but to pagans.  This challenge infuriated them. They reacted and forced him out of the town.

This was the first sign that the ministry of Jesus would be a controversial one. Even his own village and the people that he had grown up with rejected him. Here, as an aside, I am wondering if his mother, Mary, witnessed all this. I presume she did.

Jesus could have taken a softer path. He could have sought to go with the flow, and tried to curry favour with these people. There is always a pressure to back off and be accepted. This is the great challenge we face today as Catholics. We are being urged to conform, to accept the status quo. We are being asked to compromise our belief in some fundamental truths, like the true nature of marriage. The pressures on us are great. It is far easier to go along with popular opinion than state what we really believe.

Here the example of Christ is important. On key issues the Lord could not compromise. He had a mission, a message, and he was not going to be deflected from what he knew he had to proclaim. He was not going to back away from the truth of his message. He was not going to soften his teaching. He was prepared to lose people who did not agree with him, but he also knew that he would attract people who recognised the truth of his words.

My brothers and sisters, here is an example for us. We as Catholics must stand by the truth of our faith. We must not compromise what we believe to be true and right. In a particular way this applies to the Church’s teaching on sexuality, gender, marriage and family. These are God-given truths that we embrace and live by, even if our society has abandoned them.

So we must be prepared to be ostracised in some circles. We know that people will be speaking about us behind our backs. We know that we will be seen as not fitting in. However, we will stand by our beliefs. When the opportunity arises we will humbly present what we believe.

We cannot back away from the truth. We are not ashamed of the Gospel. We cannot not accommodate false ideas. We will live by the full the Christian truth as taught by the Church and enshrined in the Catechism.  

This is how we can be the missionary disciples Pope Francis has called us to be. We will live our faith humbly with hearts full of love and mercy, and with minds dedicated to living by the truth.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Sunday 3 February, 2019.