Friday, 01 February 2013 13:56
Our Gospel today picks-up from last week’s, during which Jesus read from a scroll of Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me . . . to bring glad tidings to the poor . . . liberty to captives . . . to let the oppressed go free” (Lk. 4:18). This Sunday, Jesus concludes, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk. 4:21). The people express incredulity, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” meaning, how can a son of a carpenter become Israel’s liberator or Messiah.
Jesus replies, “no prophet is accepted in his own native place” (Lk. 4:24) and enumerates the prophets of old who were persecuted by their own people. The people in the synagogue are so infuriated by Jesus’ words that “they [drive] him out of town and [lead] him to the brow of the hill”, wanting to “hurl him down headlong” (Lk. 4:29).
Such a violent reaction to Jesus. But instead of calling on the Father to cast fire and brimstone on them, he “passed through the midst of them and went away” (Lk.4:30). Jesus is vehemently rejected by his own town mates and yet, though forlorn and frustrated, quietly accepts their repudiation.
What a staggering idea—the Eternal Son humbles himself to the point of allowing people to turn away from and even turn against him. And because Jesus is divine, by extension we can say that God permits his puny creatures to reject and dishonour him.
“After all I had done for you!” Who among us has not blurted this out, after having been disappointed or rejected by those we have loved and served? “Walang utang na loob! Henceforth, I will have nothing to do with you.” And so, because of hurt, we disassociate ourselves from people who have failed us. But not so with God.
One of the most poignant scenes among Jesus’ parables is the image of the father looking into the distance, awaiting his prodigal son’s return home. Jesus means to convey that God the Father does not impose himself on us. He offers the security of his home and the warmth of his embrace, but respects our freedom to distance ourselves from him. Heart-broken every time we desert him, he yearns and aches until we freely return back to his awaiting arms, “while he was still far off, his father caught sight of him and was filled with compassion” (Lk. 15:20).
The possibility of hell. How do we construe hell? As eternal condemnation by a wrathful God or as the consequence of our free decision to separate ourselves from God?
Our First Reading proclaims that God has known us from eternity, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jer. 1:4). Moreover, Church tradition teaches that while God has loved us from all eternity, “God predestines no one to go to hell” (Council of Orange II). This is so because God offers the possibility of salvation to everyone; that is, eternal communion with him. Further still, the Church explains that, “by our own free choice . . . definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1033).
Because God respects our freedom to reject him, hell is a possibility—not because a spurned God casts us away from him, but because intransigent creatures, which we all are at various moments and in varying ways, distance ourselves from him. Thinking that freedom from God will bring us ultimate happiness and fulfilment, we, like the prodigal son, mire ourselves in misery by walking out on the Father.Adam and Eve
Religious freedom. Throughout her history the church has excommunicated lapsed Catholics and, during a dark period, even burned heretics at the stake. Vatican II is a landmark council because of its recognition of religious freedom as an inalienable human right, “the person has a right to religious freedom . . . . all men should be immune from coercion . . . to act against his convictions . . . . Religious freedom is based on the very dignity of the human person” (Dignitatis Humanae 2, Vatican II).
One has the right to reject the Christian faith, belief in Jesus Christ as savior and even belief in God’s existence. And the church today recognizes such defiance as a basic human right. As God does not impose that we believe, worship and serve him, so does the Church, hopefully, humbly recognize people’s freedom to repudiate what she believes and whom she loves most—God.
--0— Before such a humble God who lovingly breathes us into existence and bestows us with freedom, which God every moment sustains, how can we reject such a God? Before such a God whose love is “patient . . . kind . . . not jealous . . . not pompous,” (1 Cor. 13:4), how can our hearts not be drawn to such a Love? How can we not fall in love with a God almighty indeed, yet willing to be vulnerable before human freedom? The paradox is that while we may reject God, which God will respect, God will never forsake us.
Fr. Manoling V. Francisco, S.J.
3 February 2013