Luke 4: 21-30
21 After putting back the book of reading, Jesus began by saying to his audience, "This very passage of Scripture that you have just heard is happening today." 22 Everyone had only good words about him and were overthrown by these words of overflowing love that came out of his mouth, to the point of saying to themselves, "He is nevertheless the son of Joseph, no?" 23 Jesus answered them, "Surely you will quote me this proverb, 'Doctor, heal yourself! All that you did in Capernaum, from what we knew by hearsay, do it here, in your own homeland". 24 He continued, "Truly, I assure you, no prophet is welcome in his own homeland. 25 Frankly, I say to you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was blocked for 3 years and 6 months without rain, and the whole country was suffering from great famine, 26 and yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a woman who was a widow at Sarepta of Sidon. 27 There were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them got back their physical integrity, except Naaman, the Syrian." 28 Hearing these words, everyone in the synagogue became furious, 29 and after standing up, the people dragged him to the crest of the mount on which the city had been built, to rush him down the cliff. 30 But he, having sneaked through them, simply went on his way.
Getting out of a familiar world, and opening oneself to something else
Gospel commentary - Homily beatification of Mother Teresa of Calcutta by Pope John Paul II, it was pointed out that it was far from Albania, her country of origin, that she shined, that she was welcomed as a citizen. Indians of all religious allegiances repeat that Mother Teresa does not belong to the Catholic Church, but to the Indian people. Tell me, why is it abroad, in an environment where Christianity is very much a minority, that she has been able to receive such a welcome?
It seems like history is repeating itself. What is happening in this Sunday's Gospel story? As Jesus proclaims that this is now the moment when the good news of a great liberation for afflicted and captive people, as announced by the prophet Isaiah, is coming true, the people of Nazareth, his hometown, find it difficult to accept that not only this tremendous liberation is taking place now, but that it is carried out through one of their own, a neighbor whose father is well known. Surprise gives way to rage when Jesus reminds them of the beneficent actions of their God in the past, where they find themselves on the side of those who were not the beneficiairies. There are some literary artifices in Luke's account when he mentions certain actions of Jesus in Capernaum, whereas there was no scene in Capernaum up to now in the narrative, or when Jesus assumes a certain rejection from his people, while there is nothing explicit on the subject. But Luke probably wants to highlight one of the facets of the drama of faith. What is it about?
To try to understand the issue here, consider the tension between two symbols, Nazareth and Capernaum. Nazareth is my familiar world, my homeland, the territory I know well; it is the world of my family, my friends, my colleagues; it's all my experiences and my knowledge; these are my habits and my vision of things, my perception of what is good and what is wrong. Capernaum is the stranger, which is different; it is the land where I do not feel completely at home, where I feel confronted with a worldview and actions that baffle me, where I have difficulty finding my landmarks, where I feel that I need help.
What do we say in today's gospel? Jesus can act in Capernaum, but not in Nazareth. Surprising? Not so much, if you look at the very nature of faith. To believe is to go beyond the immediate perception of things, to open oneself to greater than oneself, to accept to be challenged by events as the word of God, to let oneself be carried away by love which poses neither condition nor restriction. It is part of the dynamics of faith to get us out of our familiar world, to get us out of Nazareth.
To let ourselves be carried by faith leads us to enter the world of the foreigner or the immigrant. Have you ever gone through this experience? My personal experience was limited to two years in Europe and one year in the Middle East. I still remember my feelings of insecurity, where my eyes were wide open and I was all ears to understand what was happening, where I was spontaneously sympathetic to all strangers like me, where I was open to other ways of thinking and living, where I was easily confused, where I relied on others to help me. Are we still surprised that it is in Capernaum that Jesus was able to act, that he could proclaim his good news of liberation?
I propose you to reread this gospel in the context of the Church which is ours, at the beginning of the 3rd millennium. Some regret the time of Christendom. In fact, we would like to be in Nazareth. There is no need of opening up to the reality of a changing world, new values, new ways of doing things or getting together. We multiply the prohibitions: no question of changing the liturgical structure, no question of giving their place to the natural leaders of the community. Meanwhile, Jesus works in Capernaum with those who have a foreigner or immigrant heart, like Elijah with the widow of Lebanon and Elisha with Naaman the Syrian.
On this Sunday, we celebrate in Jesus the tremendous liberating force at work in the world right now. May we join the horde of immigrants and foreigners who will welcome him.
-André Gilbert, Gatineau, October 2003