At the beginning of the reign of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, this word came from the Lord: Thus says the Lord: Stand in the court of the Lord's house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the Lord; speak to them all the words that I command you; do not hold back a word. It may be that they will listen, all of them, and will turn from their evil way, that I may change my mind about the disaster that I intend to bring on them because of their evil doings.
You shall say to them: Thus says the Lord: If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law that I have set before you, and to heed the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently - though you have not heeded - then I will make this house like Shiloh, and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth.
The priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the Lord. And when Jeremiah had finshed speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, "You shall die! Why have you prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying, 'This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant'?" And all the people gathered around Jeremiah in the house of the Lord.
More numerous than the hairs of my head
are those who hate me without cause.
Too many for my strength
are they who attack me with lies.
Must I restore what I did not steal? (R./)
It is for your sake I bear insult,
and shame covers my face.
I have become an outcast to my brothers,
a stranger to my mother's sons,
Because zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults against you fall upon me. (R./)
But I pray to you, O Lord,
may I see your favour, O God!
In your great kindness answer me
with your help that never fails. (R./)
Jesus came to his home town and began to teach the people in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, "Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?" And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, "Prophets are not without honour except in their own country and in their own house." And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.
We could reflect on the liturgy and our response to it. A peculiar text in Leviticus 16 shows a liturgy in the temple (16:1-19) combined with the colourful, popular ceremony of driving out into the desert a scapegoat loaded with all the people's sins, to be hurled to destruction over a cliff (16:20-28). Popular religiosity was pleased with this, even if not to the perfect satisfaction of a more orthodox theology.
What bothered the prophets far more than this consigning of sins to the scapegoat was the discordance between liturgical and everyday life. A longer version of Jeremiah's call for justice came in Chap. 7, where the injustices of daily life are said to contaminate the liturgy. Then the priestly managers of the temple hounded Jeremiah, demanding his death. But he was not looking for their ritual to be abandoned, only that, in the true spirit of Leviticus, they also defend justice and dignity in everyday life, and lead the prayers in such a way that it encouraged people to care for the poor.
Jesus attempted to do just this. He began his ministry at Nazareth by quoting from Isaiah, "He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight for the blind and release for prisoners." It was his response to the Year of Jubilee, discussed in tomorrow's reading from Leviticus. Yet Jesus encountered stiff resistance arising from envy in his home town, and as they lacked faith in a generous, compassionate God, he could work very few miracles there. Today one too can reflect on our own approach to liturgy and prayer. Does it touch and reflect my daily life, my home and our contemporary world? Can I accept challenge and change, even miraculous interventions, for the sake of the poor and the helpless? Am I envious of, or delighted with, God's concern for others?
When people have been away from home for some time, coming home again is not always easy. The people at home may have changed in the meantime; those who come home may also have changed since leaving home. There can be an expectation that things will be as they have always been, and when that does not happen, it can lead to misunderstanding and frustration. Jesus comes home to Nazareth after being away from his home town for some time. He had changed in the meantime. He left Nazareth the carpenter's son, in the words of the gospel. He returned a preacher of God's kingdom and a healer of the broken. The people of Nazareth could not accept this change. "This is the carpenter's son, surely?" they asked. "Where did the man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?" they wondered. The people of Nazareth would not accept Jesus because he was not the person they once knew. We too can be slow to accept people who have moved on in some way or other; we only want them as we once knew them. When it comes to the person of Jesus, like the people of Nazareth, we can see him somewhat narrowly. We can be slow to allow our image of him to be broadened. Yet, more than any human being, Jesus is always beyond our full understanding. We never grasp him completely and we always have to be open to growing in our knowledge and love of him until that day when we see him face to face