Ordinary Time 4
Jeremiah 1, 4-5, 17-19 + Psalm 71 + 1 Corinthians 13, 4-13 + Luke 4, 21-30
January 31, 2016 at Saint Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples, FL.
Just after the end of World War II a Lutheran minister named Gunter Rutenborn wrote and staged a play he titled The Sign of Jonah that had a profound impact on the city of Berlin which was in ruins. The play takes place in Germany still reeling from the war. It begins with a group of refugees trying to determine who is to blame for the horror. Some blame Hitler. Some blame the munitions manufacturers who financed Hitler. Other claimed that the German people themselves should bear the responsibility for the destruction of their own country.
Suddenly a man in the crowd speaks up: “Do you want to know who is really to blame for the suffering we have been through? I’ll tell you. God is to blame. He created this world. He placed all of this power in such unworthy hands. He allowed all of this happen.”
At first, everyone is taken back by this accusation, but gradually the chorus is picked up by all: God is to blame! God is to blame! And so God is brought down on stage and put on trial for the crime of creation; and he is found guilty. The judge then pronounces sentence: “The crime is so severe that it demands the worst possible sentence. I hereby sentence God to live on this earth as a human being.
Three archangels are called down to execute the sentence. The first angel declares, “I’m going to see to it that when God serves his sentence, He knows what it is like to be obscure and poor. He will be born in a ghetto. There will be shame about his birth, and he will live as a Jew. The second angel vows, “I’m going to see that when God serves his sentence he knows what it is like to fail and suffer disappointment. No one will understand what He is trying to do, and he will be cursed and humiliated despite the good He does.” The third angel swears, “I’m going to see to it that when God serves his sentence, He will learn what it is to suffer physical pain. He will die the most painful and humiliating death imaginable.” And the play ends with the three angels disappearing to carry out the sentence.
And so, God’s sentence is carried out in the Gospel accounts of Jesus, God-made-human. Last month we observed the fulfillment of the first sentence regarding his birth. Today we mark the fulfillment of the second angel’s vow with the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. So convinced that they were perfect, that they were right, that they were the best there is and the most favored and blessed of all peoples by God, they were outraged to hear that there might be others who were different from them yet equally favored, blessed, and loved by God. So indignant were they that they ran off and closed their ears to the news, to the Truth, to the Prophet. No signs were worked among them.
We must take great care and draw an important lesson from this Gospel regarding our own times. A prophetic church is still chased away when the Gospel calls into question the privileges of the self-satisfied. Communism has done this, and secularism is doing it today. Sometimes masked under the veil of super patriotism, there is outrage when the church favors the poor whose poverty is the consequence of economic systems that protect the wealth of a few. The prophetic Christ in his prophetic Church is silenced with ridicule when it speaks of the value of all human life to a violent culture that legalizes murder and calls it a “right” or calls it “justice.”
The audiences who saw The Sign of Jonah and all who have met Jesus of the Gospels understand immediately that God has completed his sentence. God knows what it is to live as a human being – which means that nothing we face today is unknown to God: being misunderstood, run off, silenced, mocked when the truth is spoken, betrayed by friends, it’s all there! The central message of the Gospel Jesus is that God became what we are so that we can better understand what God is and what God is about: love, forgiveness, selflessness. Such is the good news of Jesus who enters human history and sanctifies our humanity for all time.