How quickly things can turn around. Last week’s gospel ended with the words ‘today this scripture is being fulfilled in your hearing” In today’s gospel we hear of how delighted, how proud the people were of their home grown son – ‘all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth until Jesus said something along the lines of ‘I suppose you expect me to do in Nazareth the things you’ve heard me do in Capernaum.’ It doesn’t work that way. His was telling them that faith more than familiarity was required for the working of miracles and because of their familiarity with Him,”is not this Joseph’s son?’ they lacked the faith to see Him as the fulfillment of what He had just read to them. Because of their familiarity with Him Jesus quotes a saying ‘no prophet is accepted in his home town.’
To prove His point Jesus reminds them of those two occasions when God worked wonders with people who were non Jews because of the lack of faith among the Jews who considered God their own private possession. The widow and the leper, these God-cared for persons were not Jews nor did they live in Israel but God went beyond the limits of Israel and the limits of the covenant to bless and heal. Throughout the ages God’s grace and mercy have gone beyond the boundaries of the church and even Christianity itself to work wonders and transform lives, for God’s grace is every where. Some people have always found that hard to accept.
Our second reading is all about the power and the demands of love. Faith, hope and love abide but the greatest of these is love. In the end only love remains. Love is meant to be an all embracing reality in our lives. Jesus reminds us ‘if you love those who love you what good is that, even the pagans do that.’
Recently a noted theologian made this all too true observation. “Perhaps the biggest challenge confronting us today is that of facing our differences, of accepting, truly accepting ‘otherness.’ This challenge confronts us at every level; social, political, cultural, moral and religious. We all have to ask ourselves are we really open to the other?
This writer goes on to say, “we burn lots of politically correct incense in front of the shrines of multiculturalism, ethnic diversity, gender equality, wide religious tolerance and alternative life styles but as we’ll all admit when we are honest, the reality isn’t as easy as the rhetoric, we’re there in desire more than in reality. The simple fact is that otherness frightens us and often brings out the worst in us. It’s not easy to be comfortable, at home, welcoming to what’s different, what is out of the ordinary.”
In the news of the world we hear about the rise of fundamentalism and paranoia every where. In Switzerland the Muslims can’t build minarets, in other countries of Europe there is resentment toward Muslim woman wearing the veil or dressing in the burka. We’ve seen variations of the same mentality in our own country. As this theologian observed “for all our talk of global community, wide tolerance, and acceptance of differences, there is almost everywhere a growing obsession with boundaries and protecting one’s own kind in terms of ethnicity, culture, language and religion and lifestyle.”
Recently they opened a mosque in Rome and someone observed “wouldn’t it be wonderful is one day we could open a church in Saudi Arabia.” We know that is not going to happen. But we can’t let the rigidity of others be our norm.
The truth of the matter is that the acceptance of otherness and difference can only authentically happen if we have a strong identity of who and what we are personally, religiously and culturally. If we have this strong identity than we won’t feel threatened by another’s ‘otherness’ and we will be able to be at ease with others.
In our second reading, Paul’s great expose on love, we find an elaboration of Jesus’ new commandment, “love one another as I have loved you.” Living what he taught got Jesus into a lot of trouble. Reaching out to the unclean, the outsider, the ‘others’ of His time angered, threatened those who couldn’t handle ‘otherness.’ Living what Jesus taught has never been easy, especially living the new commandment, a commandment that requires of us to accept and respect that reality of ‘otherness’ all around us.
As we continue to celebrate this Mass we can pray for ourselves and for each other that strengthened by the Bread of Life which we will receive we will have the honesty to face our own limited willingness to love and be blessed with the strength to live a love that is kind, a love that is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude, a love that does not insist on its own way, a love that is not irritable or resentful, a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, a love that never ends, a love that helps us see the grace and goodness of God in the ‘other.’