God is great. So, what are you so afraid of?

  • January 25, 2010
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Jan. 31(Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19; Psalm 71; 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13; Luke 4:21-30)

Fear and an overwhelming sense of limitation and unworthiness completely possessed Jeremiah. He protested that he was too young — no one would take him seriously — and he was not a gifted speaker. None of the prophets in the Bible responded willingly and eagerly to their call from God.  Almost to a man they wished fervently that God had chosen someone else. And no wonder — the job description of the prophet included huge quantities of abuse, rejection, humiliation, and physical danger.

But God is firm and unrelenting. This is not a case of random selection or being qualified for a particular job. Jeremiah has been created for this very purpose. Even while still a thought in God’s mind this was his destiny. God has carefully formed every fiber of Jeremiah’s being for this purpose. And when Jeremiah is sent out on his difficult mission against powerful opposition from the high and mighty he will not march alone. The strength and power of God will be in him. He will be able to stand his ground and deliver the unwelcome but vital message from God.

Jeremiah’s life will be filled with struggle, discouragement, and at times the desire to walk away from it all. But God’s strength never left him and he accomplished the mission given to him by God.

Unreasonable fear — especially fear of failure — can be a form of unbelief. This is especially the case when we are responding to the prompting of our heart and soul to accomplish something that is an expression of our highest ideals and our relationship with God. It is easy to give in to negative thinking and ‘what if’ scenarios. So many beautiful dreams wither and die at this point and the world is impoverished.

The secret is reminding ourselves that it is God’s project — not ours — and we should not be obsessed with success or failure. If we are responding to the call of God’s spirit we will be given the strength and the grace that we need. Our hurting world needs fewer excuses on our part and more boldness and the willingness to take risks.

Paul’s description of love is one of the most inspired passages of the Bible but it must be constantly rescued from cloying sentimentality and trivialization. It should be read in the context of the entire Corinthian letter. Paul has taken the community to task for pride, arrogance, factionalism and contentiousness, and an obsession with self-aggrandizement. If we note carefully his description of real love it is obvious a list of everything that the members of the Corinthian community have not been. For Paul, love is eminently practical — love is as love does. And it is a hard taskmaster for it continually pulls us out of ourselves and takes us where we would rather not go.

The Corinthians also engaged in spiritual competition and used alleged spiritual gifts to exalt one over another. For Paul, the gift of tongues, prophecy, healing, and so on are all well and good but they pale in comparison to what he sees as the most powerful and marvelous spiritual and mystical gift of all: love. This is the ‘more excellent way’ that Paul insists is the only way that one walks with God.

Our image and understanding of God is always in need of challenge and expansion. When Jesus informs the crowd that he is the fulfillment of the prophecy from Isaiah, they are outraged. After all, they know Jesus and his family and cannot bring themselves to believe that God is speaking through him. God often is revealed in the familiar and the ordinary.

But there is more — Jesus draws two examples from Israel’s history of God’s gracious kindness to foreigners and non-Israelites at a time when Israel itself was in need. God is for everyone, not only Israel. Their rage is predictable: many people react the same way in our own day when their understanding of God is challenged. The same lesson is being taught to Christians and to those of other faiths.