Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19
1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13 or 13:4-13
In Sunday’s Gospel reading (Luke 4:21-30), we take up where we left off last week. In a synagogue in His home town of Nazareth, Jesus has just read an inspiring passage from the prophet Isaiah and has declared to the people, "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing." Luke tells us that the people all spoke highly of Him and were amazed at how He spoke. But at the end of our reading, the people have turned on Jesus to the point of trying to kill Him!
What happened? If we read what Jesus said to set them off, it does seem somewhat provocative. After saying "no prophet is accepted in his own native place," Jesus reminded them of various times when God’s blessings were extended to people outside of themselves. Jesus said these things in response to their question: "Isn’t this the son of Joseph?" It seems that after their initial approval, many of the people there began to limit Jesus to their own perceptions of who He was. He was the carpenter’s son. He never showed any indication that He was something more than that! Besides, if He could really do all those wonderful things that we heard about, how come He hasn’t done them here? And so Jesus tells them that God is not limited to loving just them, which got them very angry.
We live in a society that seems unlimited. Anyone with access to a computer can write a blog or sound off about anything they want. People seem free to do whatever they want. Everything is acceptable. Or is it? If we look at what is going on, there are people who are still not heard – those who are poor or are considered unimportant, or are considered threatening simply because of their race or creed or orientation. When people try to break out of the perceptions we have of them, we can get as angry as the people who heard Jesus in the synagogue. I remember watching a documentary about Louis Armstrong. In the 1950’s, he showed his support for the Civil Rights Movement, and was almost immediately castigated for it. He went beyond the limitations many white people tried to put on him. And this, of course, was mild compared to the fire hoses and the dogs used on those who marched.
Sometimes we limit others to what they can do for us, or how they can satisfy our desires. We can even do the same to God. God is only as good as what blessing we perceive He has given us.
Some may be saying to themselves, "Don’t we need limits? Society is too loose. People shouldn’t feel they have a license to do anything they want." That is the challenge in a pluralistic society like the U.S. Paradoxically, the limit we Christians have is the Gospel, which tells us to love without limits. As St. Paul says in that beautiful passage from 1 Corinthians (12:31-13:13) which is our second reading, without love we gain nothing.
For me, loving without limits means that we listen without preconceptions. We are to listen to those who usually are not heard, even when that listening provokes fear or anger. We are to love even those whom we may feel are beyond redemption. We may need to stop associating with some people, in order, for instance, to protect our recovery, but even in those situations, we’re still called to love them. When we love as we are commanded to do, we begin to see others not in terms of how they fit into our plans, but how they are loved by God. We seek to build each other up, not keep some people down.
When we think about it, God has not limited us to the human condition. He has given us a way to be with Him forever. He has given us grace to go beyond selfishness and greed. He has given us Jesus, who opened the way to reconciliation and redemption for all of us!
May we seek not to limit others, but to love them.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P. is the director of St. Paul of the Cross Retreat and Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan.