Learning to rejoice

Faith Focus for the Week

Where do I find joy? How do I rejoice in the gift of Jesus Christ in my life?

“Learning to rejoice” by Timothy O’Malley, OSV Newsweekly

Catholic author Walker Percy in his psychologically astute work, “Lost in the Cosmos,” provides a diagnosis of our sinfulness through a series of thought exercises. Among the exercises chosen by Percy includes the strange fact that when hearing good news about a promotion or raise of a neighbor, it is quite common to discover bitterness lurking in our souls. There is something wrong with us that we cannot rejoice with another, desiring instead that good news might be reserved for us alone.

There is something like this dynamic operating in today’s Gospel. Jesus has proclaimed to his fellow Jews that the messianic vocation has been fulfilled in his presence among them. But there is doubt that this one, this son of Joseph, could be the long hoped for prophet. They ask Jesus for a sign: “Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum” (Lk 4:23).

Jesus’ answer interrupts the assumptions of his audience. He notes that he is a prophet in the line of Elijah and Elisha, reaching out not simply to the people of Israel but to all the nations. The reaction is virulent: “When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong” (Lk 4:28-29). Already, one discovers the kind of violence that Jesus’ message elicits among those who find his “good news” difficult to hear.

Of course, Jesus is not the first prophet to find himself rejected by his audience. Jeremiah, too, is violently rejected by the kings, priests and people of Israel. Prophets speak truths, which are often difficult to hear. And earlier in the Gospel of Luke, Simeon prophesizes about the mission of the newborn king, who is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel” (Lk 2:32). The assembled synagogue in Nazareth, like the older son in the parable of the lost son, should rejoice in hearing Jesus’ prophetic message. But for some reason, perhaps because of the hardness of the human heart, they cannot.

This dynamic of refusing to rejoice in the expansion of salvation is not unique to Jesus’ time. Members of the Church are just as likely to react with bitterness to the inclusion of present-day Gentiles in the merciful love of the Father. We see a well-known sinner enter into our parish and murmur to ourselves about the appropriateness of this one worshipping in our church. We set up a hierarchy among those who minister in our parishes, refusing to invite the newcomer to join our exclusive club of extraordinary ministers of holy Communion. We set up boundaries around our church, where the poor cannot cross, because they would disturb the calm order of our assembly. Christ interrupts, reminding us that he is the anointed one who has come “to bring glad tidings to the poor” (Lk 4:18).

We learn to rejoice in the presence of the least among us when we take up Paul’s vision of love addressed to the Corinthians. This is a love that “rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor 13:6), a love that is the very Spirit of the triune God dwelling among us. We must be ever careful to fan this flame of love, for only then can we sing of God’s salvation (cf. Ps 71:15) to every member of the human race looking to join in our festive chorus of praise.

This article comes to you from Our Sunday Visitor courtesy of your parish or diocese.


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