Ordinary Time 29, Year C

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Not with their own swords did they conquer the land, nor did their own arms bring victory; it was your right hand, your own arm, the light of your face for you favored them (Ps. 44:4)

Those who heard Jesus speak one Sabbath day in the synagogue of Nazareth “all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth” (cf. Lk. 4:16-30). But then they made such an issue of his being Joseph’s son—or so they thought he was—that they apparently sent the signal that Jesus would need to prove himself by performing miracles they heard he had done elsewhere.

Jesus replied with a warning. “No prophet,” he pointed out, “is accepted in his own native place.” And Israel’s history shows, Jesus said additionally, that those who do not accept native-born prophets end up losing out to foreigners on divine blessings.

Stung by Jesus’ suggestion that by rejecting him they were making the mistakes their ancestors made during the times of the prophets Elijah and Elisha, when “rejection of God was at an all-time high and idolatry and unfaithfulness ran rampant,” as the InterVarsity Press commentary puts it [1], Jesus’ hearers got furious. They ran him out of town and sought to do him the worst harm.

I too bristle when someone dares suggest that I, along with the religious establishment I identify with, am wrong. I am so used to thinking of the establishment and its members to be both correct and on the right side of history that I find very unnerving the suggestion that I am mistaken and simply repeating the mistakes of so many establishment folks of yore. I quickly become very defensive therefore.

And since offense is the best defense, I sometimes attack the person who questions me and undermines the establishment; I remind him that he is the son of a nobody and also cite the judgment coming from establishment leaders that he hails from a place from which evidence shows no prophet arises (cf. Jn. 7:52). Invoking the establishment’s claim to primacy and asserting its historic core and seat, I put my foot down and affirm categorically the establishment’s unique role. I insist that such a role must not be compromised by ambiguous statements on religious pluralism (cf. [2]).

But by taking such a posture of resistance and harshness, am I not misunderstanding the gospel episode in question? The gospel account is not teaching me to turn a deaf ear and an unreceptive heart to those who would criticize me and would disagree with me. It teaches, no doubt, that Jesus is a prophet and that rejection of him only proves the genuineness of his prophetic claim. But not wholly absent in the account, I don’t think, is the suggestion that those addressed primarily by the gospel accounts may also be just as obtuse and undiscerning as those who rejected Jesus. And if the least expected to have true faith—as was indicated in last Sunday’s gospel—showed he had such great faith that he returned to give thanks, while the other nine did not, I should not readily assume that my affiliation with the establishment guarantees my justification.

In order that I may be justified before God, more is required of me than just saying to Jesus, “Lord, Lord,” or eating and drinking with him or being an eyewitness to his teaching in public (Mt. 7:21; Lk. 13:26-27). And if I am conscious and proud of my belonging to the favored establishment, I must likewise realize that much is demanded from him who has been given much (Lk. 12:48). Precisely because one has a favored status, one will be called to account more thoroughly for one’s mediocre faith or one’s lack of it (cf. Amos 3:2).

The insufficient faith of the nine who did not return would not do for me, I don’t think. They had faith, for sure, otherwise they would not have obeyed Jesus’ command to comply with the law by showing themselves to the priests. But their faith could not see beyond just being healed and getting certificates of cleanliness. Whereas the Samaritan, seeing he had been healed, glorified God loudly and fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He recognized whom the healing revealed, and he surrendered to the revealed. In praising God and falling at Jesus’ feet in thanksgiving, the Samaritan acknowledged whom he was wholly dependent on.

It is the Samaritan’s faith that will do, not the faith of the self-complacent and the self-righteous who would rather cling desperately to the establishment and its every belief and practice, and tailor the inspired sacred Scriptures to their needs and interests, than put their trust in God and abide by his word persistently, whether it is convenient or inconvenient. The Samaritan’s faith is the same faith which Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow points to and highlights, a faith that “prays always without becoming weary,” and thereby admits from whom comes every form of justification, salvation, success or victory. It is a faith that will make me stand up on a hill or on the roof top with the staff and flag of surrender to God in my hands, so inventive to infinity I am able to keep them raised up in every which way possible.

Indeed, I must never tire of proclaiming humbly that “our help is from the Lord who made heaven and earth,” and not from any renowned and powerful establishment--culture, too, race, country, locality or personality—I may be associated with. It will be to my curse to trust in these or to seek my strength in them (cf. Jer. 17:5). And worse for me if, because of these, I end up seeking a sign and rejecting the one who is greater than Jonah and Solomon (cf. Lk. 11:29-32).