Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time • Year C

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Francis J. Caponi, O.S.A.
Villanova University
Villanova, Pennsylvania

Jer 1:4-5, 17-19
Psalm 71:1-6, 15-17
1 Cor 12:31 – 13:14
Luke 4:21-30

This past summer, as I traveled into the city by train, I picked up a magazine left on a nearby seat. It was folded open to a page of job descriptions, one of which, circled in red, had caught my eye. It ran something like this: “The successful applicant will be a dynamic, smart, take-charge individual who is talented, experienced, and able to bring an innovative perspective to management. Candidates must be creative thinkers possessing independent judgment and leadership, outstanding relationship-building skills, analytical ability, and the vision required to challenge employees and drive growth.”

I thought, “Do these people think God Himself is looking for a job? Who else could possibly meet these requirements?”

And yet, someone had circled this description. A passenger on this very train had looked at those high expectations, skills, and gifts, and said, “That’s me! I’m dynamic, smart, take-charge, talented, experienced, innovative, and creative! I’m an outstanding, analytical, visionary leader!”

Of course, this talented, intelligent, visionary, up-and-coming go-getter left the magazine on the train, so how bright could he have been?

Today we hear the job description for a Christian, set by Christ and handed on by Paul: “Love is patient, love is kind, it is not pompous, inflated, rude, quick-tempered; it does not rejoice over wrongdoing; it bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” And of course, none of us is qualified for the position. Who here has the résumé for this job? If you were flipping though the classified section of the newspaper, or scanning the job board at work, and saw this job description – “Applicant must be patient, kind, not jealous, not rude” – who here would think, “Finally, the perfect job”?

No, if we were honest, we would turn the page or keep on walking. And that is just what St. Paul wants us to see. He says to us now, “Listen to what Christ expects you to be, and recognize that you cannot do it. You have no chance of getting this job, and no hope of keeping it if you did. Are you patient? Are you free from envy? Are you never happy when someone fails? Do you have what it takes to endure all things?” Paul asks these impossible questions so that we will realize that we cannot follow Christ, that we cannot do any of the things Christ expects. We do not have what it takes – on our own.

On our own, all we have are false hopes. On our own, every good intention comes to nothing. On our own, there is only failure and more failure.

What is Paul’s answer? He joyfully tells us, “The position has been filled.”

The good news of the Gospel is that what we cannot do, God has done in Christ. We could not fit the job description, so God became man, and does what we cannot.

Jesus Christ is patient, kind, forgiving, and loving. That job is covered.

So instead, he hires us as his apprentices.

Like Jeremiah, God knew each of us long before any of us came to be: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…” Before we existed, God was looking forward to this day, to this Mass. Before there was a world, God chose us to receive the body and blood of His Son. Long before we heard the job description, God decided to take us on as interns.

The only requirement? Trust in Jesus Christ, put our faith in him alone, let him be our strength and our joy.

Consider that Jesus does exactly this with his Father: He places all his trust and hope in the One who sent him. In today’s gospel, a mob takes hold of Jesus, and brings him to the edge of a cliff, and wants to throw him off. They are enraged by his claim that Nazareth is a place of little faith. Consider that in this murderous crowd, Jesus sees the faces of people he knows. He sees the faces of men who were friends with St. Joseph, who spent time chatting in his carpenter’s shop, and who watched Jesus learn his trade under Joseph’s guidance. He sees childhood friends now grown, boys he played with, and sat with in the synagogue. Not only is the Lord outnumbered, he must be heartsick to see familiar faces bent on his destruction.

In this situation, if Jesus relies on his own strength, he is lost. Nothing about our faith teaches that Jesus was the strongest man alive, that he could not be hurt, that he could physically best all comers. We know he needed food and water and sleep, we know he cried, we know he bled, we know he died. At this moment, if he tries to fight off the furious crowd, if he trusts in muscle and bone, he will lose and he will die.

But Luke tells us that Jesus walks straight through the crowd and leaves them behind. How? The same way he does everything else in his life: He hands himself over to the Father. Luke does not even try to describe how this happens. He doesn’t say that the crowd falls down in awe. He doesn’t describe a bright light that bursts forth from Jesus and drives the mob away. He doesn’t recount a warning voice coming from the heavens, or a strong wind, or a host of guardian angels. Luke says simply, “Jesus passed through their midst and went away.” The Father rescues His Son from the hands of the wicked. “For it is I this day who have made you a fortified city, a pillar of iron…. They will fight against you, but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.”

Jesus turns his entire life over to the Father, and that is the source of his victory over this crowd, and the source of his victory over our sins.

We all grapple with sins, some of the moment, some of longstanding. Some do battle with alcoholism, drug abuse, and pornography. Some married couples have slipped into the habit of contraception, and so have fallen away from fidelity and trust. At work, we have eased into casual dishonesty, laziness, and gossip. We are unfriendly to the poor, envious of the blessings of others, skilled bearers of grudges. We are not patient or kind, but we are quick to anger, and we gladly rejoice in what is false. This is what we are. Given this fact, and given the job description St. Paul has presented us with, we have only one choice: Hand our lives over to Jesus Christ. There is no other option. Give him praise for every success, however small. Ask his forgiveness for every sin, however great. Leave off comparing ourselves to others and boasting of our accomplishments and victories, for nothing is ours except what Christ gives us.

We enter this world at God’s pleasure, and He receives us when we leave, and in-between, He says: Follow my Son. Imitate him. Say what he says and act as he acts. Let him be your mentor, and he will be your strength.

I can’t remember what job was advertised in the paper I found on the train. I remember the description, but not the position. But in these words of Scripture, and in the new life we prepare to receive from this altar, we are reminded what the Christian job description is about: eternal life with God, a life without jealousy and anger, without poverty and death, without any laughter that does not praise the Lord, without any tears whatsoever.

We begin that job here. We never become the manager. We are always trainees. But that is no shame. That is our job. We have been hired not to take charge, but to obey; not to grab the reins, but to imitate; not to command, but to pray. Only then can we hope that our earthly work of following Christ may become, through the endless mercy of the Father, an eternal career.