‘Weak-long’ homilies?

What a difference a week makes. Attentive listeners will recall that the beginning of this Gospel passage is the same as the ending in last Sunday's. For people who pray liturgically, it might be true that the dramatic revelation Jesus shared last week has been of great benefit in their lives this week.

In His own hometown synagogue Jesus read out loud an important passage from Isaiah that described what it would be like when the Messiah came. For people of prayer and attention to the Scripture, the words would have been familiar. Also, the words would have been part of their lives - lives characterized by expectation, even longing for the Messiah's arrival. Glad tidings, liberty, sight to the blind, freedom - faithful people would have been ready to recognize these promised signs accompanying the salvation they sought.

On this particular day in Nazareth, Jesus read the prophetic words in a memorable and engaging way. How powerful it must have been when He said the words: "Today, this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing." Never before had there been a more perfect connection between the words proclaimed and the one preaching. Never before was there a moment of public worship so ripe for a great harvest of transformation and growth in the ways of God.

Parishioners often have opinions about the length and quality of homilies. The "parishioners" in the synagogue where Jesus preached seem to have been accepting of Him - at first. The Gospel says the "eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him" and that "all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth." This "grace period" appears to have been short-lived.

When Jesus spoke to them He connected the inspired words of Scripture to Himself. It is unclear in the passage how much He spoke to them. It seems possible that He meant to say only those compelling words: "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing." It is possible that those words were the whole of His "homily" that day. The potential fruitfulness of those words in their lives was tremendous. To grasp their implication required prayer, reflection, humility, confidence and courage. As it turned out, there wasn't much time for a considered response. From the congregation itself came an opening for a persuasive doubt to take hold. The tragic change in the collective response of Jesus' hearers did not surprise Him, of course.

This can be instructive for believers today. Jesus, with the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit, reaches out to His people individually through the Liturgy of the church. For most people it is at the Sunday Mass that this effort of Jesus is welcomed and received or rejected and missed. The people of Nazareth went freely to the synagogue sabbath after sabbath. What were they seeking? People today go to Mass Sunday after Sunday. Why do they? Is there a particular result they hope to find?

The people in the time of Jesus were awaiting the coming of the Savior. When the Gospel shows the long-awaited Savior announcing plainly His arrival, we find the people unwilling to accept Him. The fact that He gave them such an opportunity in the context of the whole community praying together might mean that He was hopeful that the willingness of some of them might be enough to persuade the others. Instead their familiarity with Him makes them doubtful that He could be the one. Extending His remarks, Jesus exposes their doubt. Their pride then calls forth their fury, and the humble Savior has to flee.

Might there be a kind of prayerful quiet at the words spoken liturgically (in prayer and preaching) that permits them to take effect in individual lives? And in the life of a parish family? Can a homily last a week?

Fr. Zuberbueler is pastor of St. Louis Church in Alexandria.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016