The Word Speaks Today

Lectio Divina: Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

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Roman Rite
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – January 31, 2016
Jer 1,4-5.17-19; Ps 71; 1Cor 12.31- 13.13; Lk 4.21 -30
Ambrosian Rite
Holy Family of Nazareth
Sir 44, 25-45, 1c.2-5; Ps 111; Eph 5.33 to 6.4; Mt 2.19 – 23
1) The word made, heard and welcomed.
  The final sentence of last Sunday’s Gospel is taken as the first sentence of this Sunday’s Gospel. It literally sounds like this: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4, 21).
Who fulfilled the words of Isaiah? Christ, the Son of God who became like us to make us like Him, to save us by reconciling us with God so that we might know God’s love, and to be our model of holiness so that we become ‘partakers of the divine nature’ ( 2 Peter 1.4) (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 456-460)
In the ears and in Nazareth.
In the ears, to teach that the word is fulfilled in those who listen to understand and put it into practice. Because “faith is always born from listening to the word of God — a form of listening, naturally, not only of the senses but that also passes from the senses to the mind and heart ”(Benedict XVI, November 10, 2012). “Listening to Jesus makes strong our faith (Pope Francis, June 06, 2015), whose measure is love.
In Nazareth, in the everyday life, where Christ grew in grace and wisdom and where, for thirty years, he led a normal life so that all the villagers thought he was the son of an ordinary carpenter. The God who became man led the life of a man, thirty years of ordinary life.
Today. In the Gospel of St. Luke, the word “today” indicates not only a time, but is always placed in a context of the salvation that is being achieved.  The “today” of the Gospel is the “today” of God, of his love and his mercy. It is to relive to the end even the amazing words of Jesus: “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house” (Lk 19: 5) and “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too (Zacchaeus ) is the son of Abraham “(Lk 19, 10). Salvation is a” now”, not an “afterwards” when we will be better.  To be confirmed in his love, our pain of repentant sinners is enough. He knocks at our door today, we must not wait for tomorrow: Christ came into this world so that “all may have life and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10). It is this “Merciful Love” that our today needs, as Pope Francis reminds us very often.
So, today, in Nazareth, in the synagogue of our hearts, Jesus presents himself as a new prophet because he is not one who announces future events, but the liberator who fulfills God’s words, today. He looks like one who fulfills the ancient hope contained in the prophecy of Isaiah: thanks to him, liberation of the oppressed, good news for the poor, healing for the blind and forgiveness for the sinners are finally, today, a reality.
If I were asked to summarize in a few words this first paragraph, I would say that the word is eternal, valid always, but realized in the present and realized to the extent that today we listen to it with our ears and welcome it with intelligence and heart.
2) How to marvel at the truth.
The second sentence of today’s Gospel says: “All gave testimony, and wondered at the gracious words that came from his mouth and said,” Isn’t this the son of Joseph? “(Lk 4, 22). If we go back to the first sentence: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing. (Lk 4, 21), we note that Jesus does not comment the words of Isaiah for long, but he says that in these words is his program for a redeemed world, where there are no more desperate, poor, blind and oppressed. His way is for the fullness of grace that does the good. But surprise and excitement go away quickly. The knowledge that the people of Nazareth had of their countryman raised among them so “ordinarily”, has stifled the surprise and the amazement at his words, new and of grace. The habit of thirty years of normal life has killed the surprise of the encounter. Life turns off when the mind and the heart are not open to the new, and do not live in expectation of the new that is under the “appearances” of the today. Life turns off when the expectations die. If we do not live in prayerful waiting, habit turns off the mystery and the surprise, and the Other, instead of being Heaven on earth and the blessing of God walking on earth, is “only” the son of Joseph the carpenter.
What may seem like a dream, an unattainable utopia, is realized in Christ. Consequently
–  we were blind and became people who see, that is people who come to the true light,
–  we were slaves and became free because we know the truth of love,
–  we were oppressed by the yoke of our wrong doing and we were made free by mercy.
The waiting for the Savior allows the wonder of the encounter and avoids the rejection of Christ because it is not offended that the Word, God’s plan, is realized in the flesh of a man who seems an ordinary man, but instead is the true Man, the true God and the Brother of all humanity.
How can we forget the words of the aged Simeon who welcomed the baby Jesus in the temple and sang: “He (Christ) is light for revelation to the Gentiles, but also a sign of contradiction” (see Lk 2: 32.34, a sign of God that inspires awe, protest and rejection?
Of course, there is a gap between the awe and the wonder and the expectations that they (the villagers of Jesus) had then and that we have today. How to overcome this gap? With discernment and docility, suggests Pope Francis, who teaches “the word of God comes to us and also illuminates the state of our heart and of our soul”: in a word, it “discerns”.  The pope goes on to state that ” the attitude that we must have in front of Christ, the Word of God, is docility “. It is “to be attentive to the word of God. The word of God is alive. It therefore comes and says what it means: not what I expect or what I hope for or what I want to hear.” The word of God “is free”. And it is “also a surprise, because our God is the God of surprises and is always doing new things. It is newness. The gospel is newness. The revelation is newness “” Our God – continues the pope – is a God who always makes things new. He asks us docility to his newness. “Then “God must be received with this openness to innovation.” And this attitude “is called docility” (January 20, 2014).
If, instead of a waiting lived with docility and discernment, we demand, we not only do not recognize Christ, but we get angry, as it has happened to the Nazarenes. Jesus is full of Spirit, of life and of love. His fellow villagers went from astonishment to anger and rage, which is the spirit of death.  They drove him out of the city and brought him to the mountain. They wanted to kill him throwing him from the mountain, but he, passing among them, walked.
It is important to have “docility” because it is not a synonym for “weakness”. Instead, it is an attitude linked to prudence. And it is important to have a “docile heart“, that is “a consciousness that knows how to listen, is sensitive to the voice of truth, and therefore is able to discern good from evil” (Benedict XVI). In this the Consecrated Virgins in the world are a significant example because, with “discernment”, they answered the call of God to be brides of Christ. These women, with humility and simplicity, offered their “heart” to him. The consecrated virgins testify that docility has not turned them into useless persons, depending on and easily led by others, with no character and decision-making skills. Indeed “docility to Christ in the Holy Spirit is the way of holiness” (Father Louis Lallement, SJ) taken by adult women who follow Christ the Bridegroom, “docile” Lamb slain for the salvation of the world. Being docile like Christ means to participate actively in his passion.
Christ was “obediently” strong to take upon himself the cross, heavy for our sins. The Virgins are “docilely” strong to follow the Savior and be steady next to the cross, as did the Virgin Mary.
To be docile in the Spirit we must live with the Virgin Mary also her purity. Our soul will be given completely to Christ alone. It is not only a physical virginity, but also a spiritual virginity which rejects any thought, memory and affection that is not for him. The whole being of the consecrated person is consumed in an act of love that unites her to the divine Spouse. And not only purity and simplicity, but also humility and docility.
* * *
Patristic Reading
 Golden Chain
on Luke 4, 22-30
CHRYS. When our Lord came to Nazareth, He refrains from miracles, lest He should provoke the people to greater malice. But He sets before them His teaching no less wonderful than His miracles. For there was a certain ineffable grace in our Savior’s words which softened the hearts of the hearers. Hence it is said, And they all bare him witness.
THEOPHYL; They bare Him witness that it was truly He, as He had said, of whom the prophet had spoken.
CHRYS. But foolish men though wondering at the power of His words little esteemed Him because of His reputed father. Hence it follows, And they said, Is not this the son of Joseph?
CYRIL; But what prevents Him from filling men with awe, though He were the Son as was supposed of Joseph? Do you not see the divine miracles, Satan already prostrate, men released from their sickness?
CHRYS. For though after a long time and when He had begun to show forth His miracles, He came to them; they did not receive Him, but again were inflamed with envy. Hence it follows, And he said to them, You will surely say to me this proverb, Physician, heal yourself.
CYRIL; It was a common proverb among the Hebrews, invented as a reproach, for men used to cry out against infirm physicians, Physician, heal yourself.
GLOSS. It was as, if they said, We have heard that you performed many cures in Capernaum; cure also thyself, i.e. Do likewise in your own city, where you were nourished and brought up.
AUG. But since St. Luke mentions that great things had been already done by Him, which he knows he had not yet related, what is more evident than that he knowingly anticipated the relation of them. For he had not proceeded so far beyond our Lord’s baptism as that he should be supposed to have forgotten that he had not y et related any of those things v, which were done in Capernaum.
AMBROSE; But the Savior purposely excuses Himself for not working miracles in His own country, that no one might suppose that love of country is a thing to be lightly esteemed by us. For it follows, But he says, Verily I say to you, that no prophet is accepted in his own country.
CYRIL; As if He says, You wish me to work many miracles among you, in whose country I have been brought up, but I am aware of a very common failing in the minds of many. To a certain extent it always happens, that even the very best things are despised when they fall to a man’s lot, not scantily, but ever at his will. So it happens also with respect to men. For a friend who is ever at hand, does not meet with the respect due to him.
THEOPHYL; Now that Christ is called a Prophet in the Scriptures, Moses bears witness, saying, God shall raise up a Prophet to you from among your brethren.
AMBROSE; But this is given for an example, that in vain can you expect the aid of Divine mercy, if you grudge to others the fruits of their virtue. The Lord despises the envious, and withdraws the miracles of His power from them that are jealous of His divine blessings in others. For our Lord’s Incarnation is an evidence of His divinity, and His invisible things are proved to us by those which are visible. See then what evils envy produces. For envy a country is deemed unworthy of the works of its citizen, which was worthy of the conception of the Son of God.
ORIGEN; As far as Luke’s narrative is concerned, our Lord is not yet said to have worked any miracle in Capernaum. For before He came to Capernaum, He is said to have lived at Nazareth. I cannot but think therefore that in these words, “whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum,” there lies a mystery concealed, and that Nazareth is a type of the Jews, Capernaum of the Gentiles. For the time will come when the people of Israel shall say, “The things which you have shown to the whole world, show also to us.” Preach your word to the people of Israel, that then at least, when the fullness of the Gentiles has entered, all Israel may be saved. Our Savior seems to me to have well answered, No prophet is accepted in his own country, but rather according to the type than the letter; though neither was Jeremiah accepted in Anathoth his country, nor the rest of the Prophets. But it seems rather to be meant that we should say, that the people of the circumcision were the countrymen of all the Prophets. And the Gentiles indeed accepted the prophecy of Jesus Christ, esteeming Moses and the Prophets who preached of Christ, far higher than they who would not from these receive Jesus.
AMBROSE; By a very apt comparison the arrogance of envious citizens is put to shame, and our Lord’s conduct shown to agree with the ancient Scriptures. For it follows, But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias: not that the days were his, but that he performed his works in them.
CHRYS. He himself, an earthly angel, a heavenly man, who had neither house, nor food, nor clothing like others, carries the keys of the heavens on his tongue. And this is what follows, When the heaven was shut. But as soon as he had closed the heavens and made the earth barren, hunger reigned and bodies wasted away, as it follows, when there was as famine through the land.
BASIL; For when he beheld the great disgrace that arose from universal plenty, he brought a famine that the people might fast, by which he checked their sin which was exceeding great. But crows were made the ministers of food to the righteous, which are wont to steal the food of others.
CHRYS. But when the stream was dried up by which the cup of the righteous man was filled, God said, Go to Sarepta, a city of Sidon; there I will command a widow woman to feed you. As it follows, But to none of them was Elias sent, save to Sarepta, a city of Sidon, to a woman that was a widow. And this was brought to pass by a particular appointment of God. For God made him go a long journey, as far as Sidon, in order that having seen the famine of the country he should ask for rain from the Lord. But there were many rich men at that time, but none of them did any thing like the widow. For in the respect shown by the woman toward the prophet, consisted her riches not of lands, but of good will.
AMBROSE; But he says in a mystery, “In the days of Elias,” because Elias brought the day to them who saw in his works the light of spiritual grace, and so the heaven was opened to them that beheld the divine mystery, but was shut when there was famine, because there was no fruitfulness in acknowledging God. But in that widow to whom Elias was sent was prefigured a type of the Church.
ORIGEN; For when a famine came upon the people of Israel, i.e. of hearing the word of God, a prophet came to a widow, of whom it is said, For the I desolate has many more children than she which has an husband; and when he had come, he multiplies her bread and her nourishment.
THEOPHYL; Sidonia signifies a vain pursuit, Sarepta fire, or scarcity of bread. By all which things the Gentiles are signified, who, given up to vain pursuits, (following gain and worldly business,) were suffering from the flames of fleshly lusts, and the want of spiritual bread, until Elias, (i.e. the word of prophecy,) now that the interpretation of the Scriptures had ceased because of the faithlessness of the Jews, came to the Church, that being received into the hearts of believers he might feed and refresh them.
BASIL; Every widowed soul, bereft of virtue and divine knowledge, as soon as she receives the divine word, knowing her own failings, learns to nourish it with the bread of virtue, and to water the teaching of virtue from the fountain of life.
ORIGEN; He cites also another similar example, adding, And there were many lepers in Israel at the time of Eliseus the Prophet, and none of them were cleansed but Naaman the Syrian, who indeed was not of Israel.
AMBROSE; Now in a mystery the people pollute the Church, that another people might succeed, gathered together from foreigners, leprous indeed at first before it is baptized in the mystical stream, but which after the sacrament of baptism, washed from the stains of body and soul, begins to be a virgin without spot or wrinkle.
THEOPHYL; For Naaman, which means beautiful, represents the Gentile people, who is ordered to be washed seven times, because that baptism saves which the seven-fold Spirit renews. His flesh after washing began to appear as a child’s, because grace like a mother begets all to one childhood, or because he is conformed to Christ, of whom it is said, to us a Child is born.
CYRIL; He convicted them of their evil intentions, and therefore they are enraged, and hence what follows, And all they in the synagogue when they heard these things were filled with wrath. Because He had said, This day is this prophecy fulfilled, they thought that He compared Himself to the prophets, and are therefore enraged, and expel Him out of their city, as it follows, And they rose up, and cast him out.
AMBROSE; It can not be wondered at that they lost their salvation who cast the Savior out of their city. But the Lord who taught His Apostles by the example of Himself to be all things to all men, neither repels the willing, nor chooses the unwilling; neither struggles against those who cast Him out, nor refuses to hear those who supplicate Him. But that conduct was the result of no slight enmity, which, forgetful of the feelings of fellow citizens, converts the causes of love into the bitterest hatred. For when the Lord Himself was extending His blessings among the people, they began to inflict injuries upon Him, as it follows, And they led him to the brow of the hill, that they might cast him down.
THEOPHYL; Worse are the Jewish disciples than their master the Devil. For he says, Cast yourself down; they actually attempt to cast Him down. But Jesus having suddenly changed His mind, or seized with astonishment, went away, since He still reserves for them a place of repentance. Hence it follows, He passing through the midst of them went his way.
CHRYS. Herein He shows both His human nature and His divine. To stand in the midst of those who were plotting against Him, and not be seized, betokened the loftiness of His divinity; but His departure declared the mystery of the dispensation, i.e. His incarnation.
AMBROSE; At the same time we must understand that this bodily endurance was not necessary, but voluntary. When He wills, He is taken, when He wills, He escapes. For how could He be held by a few who was not held by a whole people? But He would have the impiety to be the deed of the many, in order that by a few indeed He might be afflicted, but might die for the whole world. Moreover, He had still rather heal the Jews than destroy them, that by the fruitless issue of their rage they might be dissuaded from wishing what they could not accomplish.
THEOPHYL; The hour of His Passion had not yet come, which was to be on the preparation of the Passover, nor had He yet come to the place of His Passion, which not at Nazareth, but at Jerusalem, was prefigured by the blood of the victims; nor had He chosen this kind of death, of whom it was prophesied that He should be crucified by the world.

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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