Fr. Scott Haynes
Passing through the midst of them, Jesus went His way.
Fr. Scott Haynes
And the devil led him [Jesus] into a high mountain, and shewed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time; and he said to him: "To thee will I give all this power, and the glory of them; for to me they are delivered, and to whom I will, I give them. If thou therefore wilt adore before me, all shall be thine." And Jesus answering said to him: "It is written: Thou shalt adore the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve."
And he brought him to Jerusalem, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple, and he said to him: If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself from hence. For it is written, that He hath given his angels charge over thee, that they keep thee. And that in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest perhaps thou dash thy foot against a stone. And Jesus answering, said to him: It is said: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.
And the book of Isaias the prophet was delivered unto him. And as he unfolded the book, he found the place where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. "Wherefore he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, he hath sent me to heal the contrite of heart, To preach deliverance to the captives, and sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of reward. And when he had folded the book, he restored it to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him.
And the book of Isaias the prophet was delivered unto him. And as he unfolded the book, he found the place where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. Wherefore he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, he hath sent me to heal the contrite of heart, To preach deliverance to the captives, and sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of reward. And when he had folded the book, he restored it to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him.
Jesus began to say to them: "This day is fulfilled this scripture in your ears." And all gave testimony to Him: and they wondered at the words of grace that proceeded from his mouth, and they said: "Is not this the son of Joseph?" And he said to them: "Doubtless you will say to me this similitude: 'Physician, heal thyself: as great things as we have heard done in Capharnaum, do also here in thy own country.'" And He said: "Amen I say to you, that no prophet is accepted in his own country. In truth I say to you, there were many widows in the days of Elias in Israel, when heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there was a great famine throughout all the earth. And to none of them was Elias sent, but to Sarepta of Sidon, to a widow woman. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet: and none of them was cleansed but Naaman the Syrian."
And all they in the synagogue, hearing these things, were filled with anger. And they rose up and thrust him out of the city; and they brought him to the brow of the hill, whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong. But he passing through the midst of them, went his way.
After the people of Nazareth listened to Jesus read from the Torah scroll, they heard Our Lord preach what was probably one of the shortest homilies in Christian history: “This day is fulfilled this scripture in your ears” (Luke 4:21). At first, the people were full of wonder as they gazed at Joseph and Mary’s son. With pride and pleasure, they listened to the eloquent words of their own Jesus of Nazareth.
As soon as they realized Jesus was calling them to upgrade their moral standard—welcoming the poor, the blind and freeing prisoners and the oppressed—the fickle crowd quickly became ambivalent. “Is not this the son of Joseph?” Ambivalence turned to anger as the people, now formed as a mob, brought Jesus to Mount Precipice (Mount Kedumim), the mountain just outside of Nazareth, where they attempted to throw Jesus off the cliff (Luke 4:28-29).
Following a pious tradition that Our Lady was nearby watching and praying, the Franciscans would later build a church there to commemorate her intercession for her Son. The church is named the Church of Our Lady of the Fright (Notre Dame de l’Effroi). Indeed, it must have frightened Mary, who prayed as the mob tried to hurl Christ over the cliff. Mary’s prayers were answered, and Christ passed through the crowd miraculously untouched (Luke 4:30).
The citizens of Nazareth wanted to kill Christ because He exposed their lack of charity—a love that had become stagnant, chocked by religious pride. They were not looking for a messiah and savior to call them to conversion. Perhaps, they wanted a military messiah who would free them from foreign military occupation, who would restore Israel’s prominence, defeating her enemies. Or shall we consider another possibility? Maybe they did not want a messiah at all—they just wanted to maintain the status quo, being satisfied with their mediocrity and lukewarmness.
Calling to mind stories from the prophets Elijah and Elisha, Our Lord reiterated how, in the days of the prophets, Israel drifted away from God to idolatry and moral corruption. The congregation in Nazareth did not miss his point. Christ was exhorting the people of the Nazareth synagogue to undergo a serious spiritual reform. They were most offended.
First of all, they were offended because the stories revealed how God bestows mercy upon the humble of heart—that no one can demand his grace, even though he is of the chosen people of Israel. An arrogant man will seem to accuse God of being selfish with the distribution of grace, as if man has a right to it. But as Scripture teaches, “He hath mercy on whom he will…” (Romans 9:18).
The crowd was further offended when Christ applied to them the truth that God would rather give his blessings to pagans who showed God humble obedience, such as the widow in Sidon, and Naaman the Syrian, than to His ungrateful “chosen” ones. Romans 11:17-22 reminds us that God’s mercy is available to only one kind of person—sinners who are humble and contrite. “See then the goodness and the severity of God: towards them, indeed, that are fallen, the severity; but towards thee, the goodness of God…” (Romans 11:22).
We, too, can be tempted to approach God the way the people of Nazareth did—in a superficial way. It is easy to welcome the Lord into our lives on our own terms. But, when God gives us a reality check by a Gospel that exposes our pride and our self-righteousness, then our imperfections and our sins are exposed to the Light of Christ and we are challenged. Christ did not call us to a casual or lackadaisical approach to our faith. He calls us to be zealous in our love of God, to have a generous and merciful heart for our neighbor and to strive for the spiritual heights: “Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
If we are foolish, we will resist the Lord. Like the people of the synagogue of Nazareth, we will be tempted to throw Christ from the cliff, and set up a comfortable moral standard—one which we design to fit our personal preferences. This is common today as society re-defines every moral standard, in blatant disregard to the natural law, and Divine revealed law. Because our hearts and minds crave the truth, and will be satisfied by nothing less, we must honestly realize that we will only find happiness in accepting Christ’s way. And if we walk in the Lord’s “way of the perfect” (Psalm 101:2), we will find unchanging truth and eternal life (John 14:6).
To strive for spiritual perfection entails living a virtuous Christian life, wrestling with the world, the flesh, and the devil. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, were the first to tangle with this wicked trinity of temptations. Genesis recalls the scene: “The woman saw that the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eyes, and the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom” (Genesis 3:6). Eve encountered the lust of the flesh, the inordinate desire for pleasure, when she saw the “tree was good for food.” When she realized the food was “pleasing to the eyes,” she confronted the lust of the eyes, undue attachment to worldly things. And when Eve beheld that “the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom,” she came face to face with the immoderate desire for power, the pride of life, which tempted her. Once Eve was deceived, Adam disobeyed, and sin entered the world.
Contending against the greed for possessions, illicit pleasures, and thirst for power, St. John of the Cross observed: “The world is the enemy least difficult to conquer; the devil is the hardest to understand; but the flesh is the most tenacious, and its attacks continue as long as the old self lasts” (Precautions, for the Nuns of El Calvario). Christians, therefore, must live the spirit of poverty, chastity, and obedience, according to one’s state in life, to overcome the “the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life,” (1 John 2:16). Fidelity to a life of prayer will be indispensable in the battle for spiritual perfection, for the temptation to sin is always present: “Be sober and watch: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
In this battle which rages in the human heart, we must either enthrone Christ as King or accept the chaotic reign of Satan. As we try to keep the peace of Christ in our heart, our concupiscence (moral weakness) will tempt us to embrace what is false, evil, and ugly. The prudent disciple, subduing his emotions by God’s grace, will resist by turning to what is true, good, and beautiful (Romans 7:18-25). Thus, we take comfort in the words of St. Paul: “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20). As Mary prayed for Christ to escape the violence of the mob, may Our Lady obtain for us the grace to subdue the “the old man with his deeds” (Colossians 3:9), so that Christ might reign supreme over every corner of our lives. Amen.