|The Prophet Jeremiah -- Michaelangelo|
There are weeks when the lectionary readings are so full of subtleties that it is hard to distill a single theme on which to reflect. This is one of those weeks. 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 so 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. In one sense it offers the individual a more distinguished role in human life than anyone could ordinarily hope for. Ye, quite 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 – His Son in a very special sense. In Jesus, out of sheer love divinity takes on the limitations of humanity. Today’s Gospel, shows, nevertheless, that such love can be met with deep resentment, hatred and even violence. It is this reaction that finally leads Jesus to Crucifixion.
In this context, 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 back 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 are like the resentful people in the synagogue at Nazareth far more than they are models of the love that he 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.