Homily for the 4th Sunday of the Year (C)

29 – 30 January 2022

Which of the following groups/roles mentioned in the Scriptures do you think might describe us practicing Catholics today?

The Prophet: the role of the prophet was to call Israel back to God. In today’s readings we heard of Jeremiah, Elijah, and Elisha. Our Lord is also a prophet. The message of the prophet was seldom well received. Jeremiah was thrown into a pit because he discouraged Israel from making political alliances against the advancing Babylonian army; and Our Lord was taken to the edge of a cliff from which his adversaries tried to push him over because He taught God’s mercy was not only for Israel. The message of the prophet was and is counter cultural – it was and is truly prophetic.

The Righteous Elect: Israel was set apart from other nations. They were to keep the Law of Moses, not only the 10 Commandments, also the 636 secondary laws. Identity was very important for the righteous of Israel, just as it might be for us too. This often meant anyone who was different was treated with suspicion. In seeking to preserve their customs, culture, and laws, the righteous of Israel could come across as critical, dismissive, moralistic, legalistic, intolerant, and exclusive. Could this be how we are sometimes also perceived?

The Excluded: tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritans, Gentiles, basically anyone the righteous of Israel thought unrighteous. These did not fit into the neat categories of the righteous: they sometimes worshiped God differently, as did the Samaritans, or they worshiped pagan idols, as did the Gentiles. Outsiders were treated with suspicion by the righteous of Israel and ostracized from the mainstream of Jewish society in case they should undermine Israel. Who are the excluded today?

Let us return to our question: which group, or groups, mentioned above describes us practicing Catholics today?

Certainly, all religious people are capable of being critical, dismissive, moralistic, legalistic, intolerant, and exclusive; this is because all people are capable to being critical, dismissive, moralistic, legalistic, intolerant, and exclusive. Apart from the possibility of having this in common with the righteous elect we (can) be nothing like this group. This is because Christianity is fundamentally inclusive rather than exclusive. Christianity is for everyone: every race, continent, and time. This is what it means be “catholic”, a Greek word, meaning “universal”.

Only when we understand this sense of inclusivity as relating to the identity of the Church, rather than to our attitude, can we begin to speak correctly of St Paul’s text on love, seeing it for what it really is, not a call for today’s “elect” to be nicer towards those who don’t fit in, but a call from God for every man and woman to renounce sin and follow Jesus.