Tuesday, January 26, 2016


Jeremiah -- MIchaelangelo
There are weeks when the lectionary readings are so full of subtleties that it is hard to distill any single theme on which they invite us to reflect. This is one of those weeks. The lessons seem random, and yet there is a theme -- the cost of prophecy.

In the Old Testament lesson, Jeremiah recounts his deep reluctance to accept the awesome prophetic role that God has in mind for him. Here we get a glimpse of a paradox that runs through  much of the Bible. To be ‘chosen’ by God as one of his special witnesses is the most momentous and significant thing that can happen to any human being. From one perspective, it offers the individual a more distinguished role in human life than anyone could ordinarily hope for. From another it is foolishness, because unlike high office in other spheres – politics, business, science, the military for example – where we can expect acclamation, popularity and reward, prophetic greatness is very likely to bring ridicule, rejection and persecution.

Christ in the Synagogue -- Nicholai Ge (1868)
This was true in Jeremiah’s case. His example, though striking, fades to relative insignificance in comparison with Jesus, however. Jesus is far more than a prophetic witness. The lessons throughout Epiphany underline again and again that he has been uniquely chosen by God as God’s own incarnation – Son of God in a very special sense. In Jesus, divinity, motivated by pure love,  takes on the limitations of humanity. This week’s Gospel, shows, strangely, that such love can be met with deep resentment, hatred and even violence. It is this reaction that finally leads Jesus to Crucifixion.
 With this in the background, the famous passage from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians serves wonderfully to remind us of what love is like. It is easy to sit comfortably and let these familiar and beautiful words flow over us. But we should make no mistake. As Paul himself knew only too well, church people can be like the resentful people in the synagogue at Nazareth far more often than they model the love Paul so powerfully describes. Set against this fact, there is this Good News: Christian hope and faith are pinned on God’s love for humanity, not on humanity’s love for one another.

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