4th Sunday of Ordinary Time C
January 31, 2016
Reading I: Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19
Today’s Old Testament reading consists of the first and last
portions of the account of Jeremiah’s call to be a prophet.
The call, properly speaking, covers verses Jeremiah 1:4-10, 17-19, and it
would have been more consistent with the structure of the text
to divide the material thus, omitting only the two visions that
interrupt the narrative of the call (Jer 1:11-16).
The call is related in the form of a dialogue between YHWH and the prophet. Jeremiah
was predestined from the womb to be a propheta characteristically biblical
emphasis on the initiative of YHWH in Israel’s salvation history.
to the separation of the prophet for a distinctive role in that history. Jeremiah’s
call played an important role in Paul’s understanding of his apostolic call (Gal
The liturgical selection today, however, treats Jeremiah’s call as a type
of Jesus’ messianic call, for this passage was chosen to match the second half
of the sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth.
Jeremiah’s mission is not merely to Israel but to “the nations.” Since
the time of Amos, the prophets had a strong sense of God as the sovereign Lord
of all history, not just that of his people. This lordship was expressed more
in his judgments than in his acts of mercy.
The caption, “I have appointed
you as prophet to the nations,” calls special attention to this universality
of Jeremiah’s mission because of the Epiphany season and also because of the
Gospel Reading, which invokes the stories of Elijah and Elisha as types of Christ’s
In these two types, however, the emphasis is on the salvation
of YHWH reaching out beyond Israel rather than on his
In the second paragraph of our reading, Jeremiah is warned of the opposition
he will incur in Israel, which again links this reading with Jesus’ rejection
at Nazareth. There is a consistency both in God’s dealings with his people and
in his people’s reaction to his word, a consistency that runs through both the
Old Testament and the New.
Responsorial Psalm: 71:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 15-17
This psalm is an
individual lament, sung by an aged person in a time of sickness
(third stanza). The afflicted one flees to God and prays
for deliverance (first and second stanzas), and concludes
with a vow to praise God henceforth (presumably in thanksgiving
for delivery from sickness).
This hymn would be suitable for Christian devotion at any time, for the Christian’s
fundamental sickness is sin, and the delivery is forgiveness through the atoning
work of Christ.
However, the reason for its choice today seems to be that Jeremiah
frequently fled to God for refuge in face of the hostility of the kings, princes,
priests, and people of Judah (First Reading).
Reading II: 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13 or 13:4-13
Paul’s hymn to charity falls
into four parts: (1) 1 Corinthians 12:1-3; (2) 1 Cor 12:4-7; (3) 1 Cor 12:8-12; (4) 1 Cor 12:13:
conclusion. The shorter reading consists of the second and third parts plus the
conclusion. The longer reading reproduces the whole hymn plus 1 Cor 12:31, which indicates
its context in the letter, namely, Paul’s discussion of the charismata.
first and third parts refer to the charismata; the second part is
more abstract and general in its characterization of agape. The hymn’s
place in the letter is problematical. 1 Corinthians 14:1 would follow directly upon 1 Cor 12:31a.
1 Cor 12:31b in the RSV [= 1 Cor 13:1 in the NAB]
promises one “more excellent
way,” the hymn gives us the three virtues of faith, hope, and love, although
love is acknowledged to be the greatest.
These problems have led some to suppose
that the hymn is a post-Pauline interpolation, but the first and third parts
are too specifically related to the context, the discussion of the charismata,
Striking, too, is the lack of any specific Christological reference in the hymn.
But the triad of faith, hope, and love belongs to Christian tradition and occurs
elsewhere in the Pauline letters, especially in the opening thanksgivings. Otherwise
the hymn is akin in style to hymns in praise of wisdom and other virtues found
in Hellenistic Jewish wisdom literature.
It might be suggested that the second
part of the hymn was preformed in Hellenistic Jewish Christianity or even in
Hellenistic Judaism, and that Paul himself has adapted it to the context by adding
the first and third parts.
Note the difference of style: the first and third
parts are written in an “I” style. This is not Paul’s own ego speaking
but refers to anyone or everyone. This use of the “I” style is characteristic
of Hellenistic rhetoric (cf. Rom 7:7-25).
If the central paragraph originally stood on its own, before Paul used it here,
and was modeled on Hellenistic Jewish material, we can see why agape is treated
simply as a human virtue without any reference to Christology, and why there
is no clarification about its objectwhether it is God’s love for human
beings or their love for God or for others. It is simply the description of an
abstract virtue, like the praise of wisdom in the wisdom literature.
As we have already noted, this
is the second part of the sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth. The first part,
read last Sunday, consisted of the text of the sermon (Is 61) and the brief
declaration in Luke 4:21, with which today’s reading also opens.
The synagogue congregation expresses its astonishment at Jesus’ teaching and
is perplexed because it knows his human origins. This material is similar to Mark 6, though the reference to Jesus’ family is different, recalling John 7:41-42 and therefore suggesting a second source.
Then comes the proverb “Physician,
heal thyself” (not found elsewhere in the Synoptics) and the awkward reference
to works already done in Capernaumawkward because in Luke’s Gospel Jesus
has not yet worked there. This would suit the Marcan context better, but the
reference to Capernaum is absent from Mark.
Therefore the proverb and the reference
to Capernaum must be a fragment of a non-Marcan version of the rejection that
Luke has inserted here. Then comes the saying from Mark about the prophet’s not
being honored in his own country.
After this we have more material peculiar to Luke, namely, the references to
the miracles performed for Gentiles by Elijah and Elisha. The style and vocabulary
of this section are definitely Lucan, as A. R. C. Leaney notes in his commentary
on Luke. The interest in turning to the Gentiles after the rejection by Israel
is also a characteristic Lucan theme.
It is impossible to say for certain whether
the whole of this section of the sermon is Lucan composition (Leaney leaves the
question open). There is, of course, the possibility that the examples of Elijah
and Elisha had already been used in Christian preaching before Luke, and that
he has worked these traditional features into his composition, just as he formed
the kerygmatic speeches in Acts out of earlier Christological formulas and Old
The story closes with a hostile attempt on Jesus’ life. At first sight this looks
like a Lucan expansion of Mark’s statement (Lk 6:3) that the people of Nazareth
were offended at Jesus because of his teaching.
But the miraculous escape from
a hostile crowd is paralleled in John 10:39, so it is hardly likely to be a Lucan
creation. It seems, therefore, that Luke has a special source containing a version
of the Nazareth episode differing from Mark’s.
This alternative tradition will
include: (1) the citation of Isaiah 61; (2) the proverb about the physician and
the reference to earlier works in Capernaum; (3) the attempt to stone Jesus.
Luke will then have combined this narrative with Mark’s, expanding it by his
own composition and embodying the references to Elijah and Elisha.
of this Lucan redaction is to make the story programmatic to his two-volume work.
Luke will repeatedly stress the fact that because of Israel’s rejection of the
Messiah, the gospel goes forth to the Gentile world.
Reginald H. Fuller
Copyright © 2006
by The Order of St. Benedict, Inc., Collegeville,
Minnesota. All rights reserved. Used by
permission from The Liturgical Press,
Collegeville, Minnesota 56321
Preaching the Lectionary:
The Word of God for the Church Today
Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg. Liturgical Press. 1984 (Revised Edition), pp. 455-458.
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