The Prophet’s Trouble
3 February 2019 – Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
All is well for a few moments; in fact, the locals . . . are pleased that such a fine young rabbi has emerged from their number. But Jesus soon presses the point and . . . challenges the complacency of their faith. He speaks not only of their ultimate rejection of him and his message, but of the rejection they will suffer at the hands of God.
Jesus’ words almost have the quality of a taunt, which might not strike any of us preachers as the most effective way to illustrate a message. But. . . he does get his message across. . . We only need to consider a bit of historical background to understand how shocking his comments about the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the leper were to his listeners.
Zarephath . . . was originally a Canaanite town. . . Today, it is part of the country of Lebanon. Naaman is from Syria, which is, of course, home to some of the world’s oldest cities and part of the “cradle of civilization” surrounding the Euphrates River. . . Both Lebanon and Syria are [still today] major players in a tense and dramatic conflict with the nation of Israel. . .
Jesus reminds the worshipers in the synagogue on this day that, despite the presence of many other widows and lepers in the nation of Israel, God chose to send deliverance to a woman from Lebanon and a military commander from Syria. Why? Well, that is the power of the prophet’s message, is it not? It causes us to stop and ask, “Why?”
Of course, the reaction of the hearers to Jesus’ message was pretty typical, as well: they got angry! Perhaps that is why it’s still true today that there is just no profit in being a prophet. –– Author Unknown
God tells Jeremiah not to be afraid to proclaim the word he is given. As preachers we can readily identify with this passage. Are we intimidated into silence when we should be boldly proclaiming everything God has commanded (cf. Jeremiah 1:7)? Are we willing to be faithful to the whole counsel of God, even when it means that we will be rejected? Our own comfort and security tempt us to shirk our prophetic duty. How can we take strength from this passage? –– Ben Sharpe
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
After observing that agape bears, believes, hopes and endures all things, Paul is able to claim that love never ends while prophecy, tongues and knowledge will pass away. The point is to establish that the Corinthians exaggerated the significance of these charisms, while allowing factions to distort their community. To Paul this situation is childish (13:11) and he calls this community to become adults. He acknowledges that in this life there are limits to what Christians truly know but that faith, hope and love will guide them to their future destiny with God, and that of the three, Paul insists the greatest is love (agape). –– Regina Boisclair
Ben Sharpe is the Rector of Christ Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. His DMin is from Nashotah House.
Regina Boisclair, a Roman Catholic biblical scholar, teaches at Alaska Pacific University, Anchorage, Alaska.
Homily Service 40, no. 2 (2007): 57-66.