If Jesus were on earth today, people would treat him the same way as they did in this Sunday’s Gospel passage (Lk. 4:21-30). Some would praise him and others would reject him. We often think that if Jesus came today, everyone in the Church would recognize his authority. We assume that he would bring peace to the Church. But he would be rejected, just like he was 2,000 years ago. Even in the Church, some would marvel at his gracious words, while others would be filled with fury and want to drive him out of town (Lk. 4:22, 28-29). This is how people treat prophets. It will always be that way.
This gospel scene is a snapshot of Jesus’ entire ministry. He will be a raving success when he heals the blind, the lame and the lepers. Yet, he will experience bitter rejection. Some will grumble when he shows mercy toward sinners. Even though they see him cast out evil spirits, they will say that he is possessed by the devil (Mk. 3:22).
As we read this passage, we are amazed that people are praising him, but shortly after they are so infuriated that they want to hurl him over a cliff. As Luke begins to tell the story of Jesus ministry, he puts before us the praise of the crowds as well as their rejection, and even diabolical anger which will lead him to the cross. If we are stunned by such contrasting reactions, then we still do not know the battle of good and evil at work in our hearts, the Church and the world. This is a snapshot of the battle between good and evil which prophets confront.
As a prophet, Jesus was destined for rejection. As disciples of Jesus who share his prophetic mission through baptism, we should expect rejection. We should not be surprised when some in the Church are reviled by others. For example, St. Oscar Romero was hated by the wealthy Catholics of El Salvador when he stood up for the rights of the poor. His fellow bishops and the Papal Nuncio did not support with him because he stood up against the government and military who were persecuting people.
Prophets stand alone and are persecuted.
As disciples, the first reaction to rejection is that we should expect it. Something is wrong if we are never ostracized or reviled for Jesus’ name. Then we are not living as authentic witnesses of Christ. Sometimes people react with anger when I preach. At times, they have walked out in the middle of a homily. That bothers me because I want people to like me. None of us wants to be rejected. Yet, it’s part of our prophetic mission.
Parents should experience some rejection from their children, when they stand strong in setting clear boundaries. Teens should expect to be ridiculed by their peers simply because they live with moral values. Legislators should expect scorn from their constituents and fellow legislators because they are not afraid to be guided by a strong moral compass in debating social issues.
Expect rejection and rejoice in it, instead of complain when it happens. How often we grumble when we experience hatred. But Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! . . . For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way. (Lk. 6:22-23)
To rejoice in rejection requires a mature faith. It means that you have learned to trust God in the darkest moments. You have become a disciple who has embraced the cross and who remembers the victory of the cross. You believe that God is greater than the worst evil. Above all, you know that the Lord is with you and will prevail.
That is what Jeremiah experienced in his call. God warned him that he would be rejected, yet he was assured of God’s help. He heard the Lord say, “Be not crushed on their account, as though I would leave you crushed before them. . . . They will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord” (Jer. 1:17, 19). The Church paired that reading with this gospel passage because it captures the trust of Jesus as he gets a taste of his future crucifixion and death.
The prophet expects rejection, rejoices in it, and walks away in freedom. When they drove him out of town and wanted to kill him, “Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away” (Lk. 4:30). He didn’t complain about their attitude, or lament how poorly he was treated. He walked away in freedom. After this, he went to Capernaum where he taught with authority, expelled demons and healed people. He kept focused on his mission.
One of the clearest signs of a prophet is that they have an inner freedom. They do not get elated when people praise them, nor do they get discouraged when people despise them. Prophets do not react to how people treat them; rather they act out of their relationship with God. They are centered in God. That gives them freedom from people’s opinions.
This is seen clearly in Pope Francis. He is peaceful and free. He is not perfect, and he makes mistakes. But he has inner freedom. Despite all the problems in the Church, he says that he has an abiding peace. I am convinced that he is a prophet. He is disliked by some in the Church because he has the freedom to listen to the Word of God and let it refresh the Church as we deal with troubled marriages or issues like immigration. Especially, he urges us to be merciful like the Father is merciful. His appeal to mercy is one of the reasons that people reject him.
He is a prophet, so we should expect to see him rejected, even by Catholics. Since he is the Vicar of Christ it is fitting that he is being rejected. Like Romero who was derided by other Catholics, the prophets are not accepted in their day. But they walk through the crowd in freedom.
Do you want to walk with the freedom of a prophet? Then seek to be centered in God alone. Let God’s Word guide you, not the words of the crowd. Take 3-4 minutes to read the gospel every day. As you come to Eucharist, ask for the grace to expect rejection, to rejoice in it, and to walk in freedom.