Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C
[Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19; Psalm 71; 1Corinthians 12:31-13:13; Luke 4:21-30]
This weekend, the attention of many people is fixed on a large gathering of truckers and their supporters in Ottawa. A huge convoy of transport vehicles has formed from various parts of the country, and is now in the nation’s capital. Collectively, the vehicles and their drivers form what we can call a convoy of resistance. The particular focus of the protest, as we know, is the imposition of vaccination mandates. I raise this not in order to offer a public comment on this particular demonstration, but to suggest that we have in this convoy of resistance an image to help us reflect upon the message communicated by today’s scriptural passages.
In the account from the Gospel of Saint Luke, we hear that Jesus is carried out of his hometown by a convoy of resistance. Jesus is in the synagogue, and has just proclaimed himself to be the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy that God would raise up one anointed by the Spirit to proclaim good news to the poor, release to captives, and so on. Even though the people at first speak favourably, Jesus is aware of a latent cynicism on their part and calls them on it. He first quotes the proverb that no prophet is accepted in his hometown. Then, by reference to the experiences of Elijah and Elisha, he in effect tells the people that his work will have better results outside of his hometown than among his own townspeople, and that they are like those who persecuted Jeremiah and all the prophets of old. The people are enraged, and show their resistance by parading him out of town to throw him over a cliff; a convoy of very angry resistance.
This event takes place in the early months of Jesus’s ministry. It foreshadows the coming caravan of pushback populated by the religious and secular authorities, leading ultimately to the Cross. At the heart of the protest winding its way through the Gospels is resistance to a mandate, one not of human but divine origin: the command from the Father that we listen to and believe in His Son. As we ponder the negative reaction of the people to Jesus in protest against the divine mandate, a question emerges for our own self-reflection: are there convoys of resistance within my own heart to Jesus and the dictates of his Gospel?
Let’s recall that belief in Jesus Christ as mandated by God the Father is an act by which we surrender to every word that comes from his mouth; it is a decision to accept what he says as true and obey his every command. Yet an honest self-examination will often reveal in each of our hearts a convoy of resistance to Gospel directives that summon us to change any mindsets, attitudes or behaviours not in conformity with our Christian identity and baptismal promises. The convoy takes shape as attitudes of resistance to various moral imperatives travel the pathways of the heart and eventually merge into a united and steady protest against any divine command that curtails my will, and prevents the pursuit of what I desire. This is dangerous and needs to be examined closely and carefully. The procession of trucks converging in Ottawa is causing there a massive gridlock. A convoy of resistance to the Gospel could bring to a halt the flow of faith, hope and charity, divine gifts that St. Paul tells us are the essence of Christian life.
One particular aspect of the truckers’ reaction to vaccination mandates merits especially careful reflection as we ponder our own response to divine directives. The protestors are labelling their action a Freedom Rally. This arises from the understanding of the mandate as an infringement on personal liberty, and in consequence they are demanding that it be lifted. The question this raises is that of the relation between externally imposed mandates and human freedom. I highlight this because this is the very question that lies at the heart of our relationship with God. In the light of revelation given in Sacred Scripture, we can see how humanity’s long convoy of resistance to divine commands, extending through history, began when the serpent tempted Adam and Eve to believe that obedience to God is a threat to freedom. The truth, though, is the opposite. Far from inhibiting freedom, obedience to divine mandates is liberty’s necessary prerequisite. God’s every Word is truth and love, directed at the authentic exercise of the freedom with which the Creator Himself endowed us. His mandates are worthy of our trust and deserving of our obedience. Furthermore, they endure forever, and will never be lifted, no matter how much we may protest against them. This means that the way to real freedom is to change our convoys of resistance into processions of fidelity. We follow this route when we choose to trust not in ourselves but in Jesus Christ, and follow in faith wherever his Word commands us to go, and do whatever it mandates.
As we enter this morning into the mystery of the Eucharist, we join another convoy, one of continual praise and thanksgiving offered to the Father by Christ himself and the whole communion of saints. May our participation break down any resistance within us to divine commands. Nourished in this sacrament by the love and truth God has manifested in Jesus, may we live faithfully in the freedom of God’s children.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
St. Joseph’s Basilica
January 30th, 2022