Seeing God’s Presence

Seeing God’s Presence

January 31, 2016 | N W | Courage, Discipleship, Guest Celebrants, Love, Ordinary Time, Self-Reflection, St. Luke, Uncategorized

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 31, 2016 – Year C
Readings: Jer 1:4-5, 17-19 / Ps 71 / 1 Cor 12:31-13:13 / Lk 4:21-30
by Rev. Louis Benoit, Guest Celebrant

Jesus goes to his hometown and proclaims the Good News of healing and liberation, and the people are impressed.  But then they begin to say, “Wait a minute!  Isn’t this Joseph’s son?  Isn’t he the carpenter’s boy? Where did he get all this?  We know where he comes from.”  They begin to question.  Jesus points out to them that sometimes people outside Judaism have greater faith than these people inside Judaism.  And this really gets the people riled up!  They want to throw him over the edge of the hill where the town is built, but he goes through their midst and is gone…

Of course, the tragedy is that Jesus, God incarnate in a human person, is among them and they don’t see it.  Their vision is too narrow, and they miss it.

When I was a small child, we had a similar incident in my hometown.  I’d just started school when we had a young associate pastor, and he came from the hometown.  He was very vivacious, friendly, and yet it didn’t work out.  It was similar to the situation with Jesus in the gospel:  “Well, we know his family.  We know where he comes from.  We remember what he did at Halloween twelve years ago!”  And it just didn’t work.  The people weren’t ready to let this young priest give his gifts to them.  They suffered from a lack of openness.

The lesson is that we need a radical openness to see Jesus in many ways in our lives; to discern God leading us deeper and deeper into God’s presence.  Of course, as for the people of Nazareth, this is not always a pleasant experience.  Many times God will be calling us beyond our comfort zone.  And we can be resistant.  Sometimes in following God’s law we have to question our values, maybe deepen those values, maybe change some of the ways we look at things and some of the ways we’re doing things.  God’s calling us forth.  And remember:   God will always call you forth into a deeper life.  God loves you too much to keep you just the way you are.  God is always calling you deeper and deeper into God’s love.  Remember that; that’s worthwhile.  Only a God who loves you, loves you enough to call you into deeper life.

Which means sometimes we have to question where we are, where we’re going, what we’re doing, how we do it.   And, of course, God in calling us into a deeper life is calling us to the fullness of the life that He wants for us.  God wants you to be happy and fulfilled.  But to do that you have to keep walking in God’s presence and going ever deeper and deeper into that presence.

Many times we like to have life nicely boxed in.  We have our little box where everything is comfortable; we know where everything is.  Well, folks, that’s as phony as the three dollar bill.  There’s no ‘little box.’  Life changes; it’s inevitable.  Whether you like it or not, the kids grow up.  Change is a normal part of life, but in change God is calling you ever deeper and deeper into God’s love.

That means being open to God’s presence in all people, especially the poor and those who need you.  Mind you, the poor are not always nice.  That can be uncomfortable.  To be open to God in all people – different races, different nationalities, different religions – be open to God’s presence and to what that presence can be saying to you.  Because God’s loving presence comes through many of these people.  That was the problem with the people in Nazareth:  God Incarnate was standing in front of them and they didn’t see it.

I think we can miss it too.  It’s the call to radical openness.

You have to put the readings together today, because all three readings fit together rather well.  Jesus refers to Himself as ‘Prophet.’  He says, “No prophet is accepted in his own native place.”  The first reading is about a prophet and his call.  Prophets are people who come among us to teach us God’s ways beyond ourselves, and prophets are, many times, people who make us feel uncomfortable.  They call us beyond where we’re at.  Often we don’t like them.  You might say, “Prophets are people who comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”  It’s true.  But many times they’re God’s messengers, and we have to be aware of prophetic people who might be calling us beyond ourselves.

In our modern day we’ve had some outstanding prophetic people:  people like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador – very prophetic people, calling people to arms where they were.  I can remember well, during the sixties’ civil rights era and Martin Luther King, good people who were against segregation but saying, “Wait a minute!” to Martin Luther King.  “This guy’s pushing it too far, too fast.”   And yet the true measure of a prophet is that their message is relevant and their message lasts.  I can remember reading Martin Luther King’s letter from Birmingham jail, where he lays out his position.  Many people – good people, people against segregation – were very uncomfortable with that letter.  And yet, about fifteen years later, I read that letter again.  It wasn’t radical at all.  What he was saying came to pass.  It’s the true quality of a prophet:  They live on; their message lives on.

Most real prophets suffer a violent death.  Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Archbishop Romero were all murdered.  But, as true prophets, their messages live on.  We celebrate a holiday for Martin Luther King now, and there’s a big monument to him in Washington.  Archbishop Romero, anticipating a violent end, told the authorities:  “You kill me, and I will live on in the hearts of the Salvadoran people.”  And so it happened.  The message of the martyrs lives on.

We have to pay attention to these people calling us beyond ourselves, and not be overly threatened by it.  The real test of this the second reading:  Paul’s great hymn to love.  You want to know where it’s at and how to live it?  There it is.  Read that.  And be in touch with it.

To help you along with this, I have a little sheet here.  I’ve taken this text, “Love is patient, love is kind, love is not jealous…” and wherever the word “Love” is, or the pronoun ‘it’ referring to Love, I’ve taken it out and replaced it with a blank.  And there are copies of this on the desk in the commons.  All you have to do is take a copy of this and, wherever there’s a blank, write in your first name.  Then read it, and see how well it fits.

This might be a good reflection before Lent to see where you’re going and where you need to improve.  And when you write your name into the blanks, it comes out like this, say, if your name is ‘Fred’:  “Fred is patient, Fred is kind, Fred is not jealous, Fred does not put on airs.”  You get the idea, don’t you?  So, after Mass, pick one up on the desk in the commons on your way out.  Follow the instructions and reflect on it.  How are we at following Jesus?    How well do we see His presence when He comes into our lives?  Let us be open to that presence.  I think that’s the message for today:  Don’t miss Jesus’ presence when Jesus might be standing right in front of you.