I’m not saying anything new when I say we in the west have become a culture of ‘entitlement’. Simply because we want something, we should have it; and we should have it when we want it and how we want it. When things don’t work out the way we want them, we hear the cry of, ‘you can’t do this to me, I’m a —-‘( and enter your culture, nationality, position, rank etc. here). Our convenience, our comfort, and our entertainment is paramount – whatever is happening to others or being suffered in other places is secondary. We are entitled to the good life because we are used to the good life; whether we’ve worked for it or not, we deserve it (at least that’s the constant message we hear from the media). This sense of entitlement appears to be the majority opinion.
Our Gospel today picks up where it left off last Sunday. Last week ended with Jesus quoting Isaiah that the Messiah would bring good news to the poor and the oppressed, and that He was the fulfillment of that prophecy. This week, we hear the rest of that story, as the passage begins with Jesus’ Messianic claim, and the response of those receiving that message.
The majority in the synagogue in Nazareth appears to have agreed on the traditional view of the Messiah; a religious, political and military ruler for Israel, who would lead Israel out of oppression, and through a display of power, place Israel above the other nations. The Messiah was for Israel and Israel alone. Israel was ‘entitled’ to the Messiah, through no effort on Israel’s part. God was their personal property.
Imagine that view compounded in this setting by the suggestion that, if Jesus is the Messiah, and he is from Nazareth, then Nazareth holds a special position – ‘the hometown of the Messiah’ if you will. Those in the synagogue of Nazareth, for a few moments, might have considered themselves the most entitled of all!
But Jesus makes it quite clear the majority opinion is not God’s opinion; that the popular vote has nothing to do with how God works and moves and acts among us; that the Messiah is come for all people, not just Israel. He uses two examples – one of Elijah ministering to a gentile widow, and the other of Elisha healing a Syrian soldier – and by the examples he uses, Jesus tells the people in the synagogue that even the ‘enemies’ of Israel, and the Gentiles, are included in the Kingdom of God; that no one has a privileged claim; that no one is ‘entitled’ to the Kingdom just because they think they should have it.
God does not rule by popular vote; God does not move and act based on human wisdom. God does not submit to majority opinion.
And we see the reaction to Jesus making this point; in six short verses, the atmosphere changes from ‘all spoke well of him‘ to being filled with rage to the point of wanting to kill him.
We see this repeated often enough in the accounts of Jesus’ life; people like hearing his message of love and the kingdom – but as soon as his message is different from what they expect or what the majority wants, the crowds turn on him. Think of the bread of life discourse in John’s gospel when he says ‘eat my flesh’ and everyone except the apostles stop following him because his teaching is ‘too hard’. Think of the passion story, when he is welcomed as a hero into Jerusalem, and then less than a week later he is handed over to be crucified. As soon as Jesus’ teaching challenges people, they become hostile.
This same theme plays itself out today; when people say ,’why doesn’t the Church just get with the times?’, they are really saying ‘why doesn’t the Church change her teaching to suit my lifestyle, instead of the other way around.’ Everyone loves to hear the Church speak about love (as in our second reading, the most popular wedding reading by far from 1st Corinthians. They forget that at the center of the writing about ‘love’ that it states that love ‘does not seek its own interests‘). But as soon as the Church, living out her mission, speaks on how to express that love, by following the Commandments and the Gospel; in her teaching on abortion, euthanasia, marriage, family, on social justice, the sacraments; in all of these and so much more, the Church always runs up against ‘modern thought’ or ‘popular opinion’ and is just as vilified and rejected by followers of ‘human wisdom’ as Jesus was in that synagogue in Nazareth.
As followers of Christ, we shouldn’t concern ourselves with popular opinion or human wisdom when it comes to our relationship with God and with each other. The only view that matters is God’s; and rather than assuming His love is our property or entitlement, perhaps we should turn that view around.
We should be seeing our love for God as His property, His entitlement; asking God how we can grow closer to Him, rather than giving our list of demands.
With that view, we can’t help but surrender to God. We can’t help but experience His love. We can truly live that love described in that first letter to the Corinthians; we too will bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things for God and each other.
Because His love is not an entitlement.
It’s a gift.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!