Francis J. Caponi, O.S.A.Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year C)
Homily by Francis J. Caponi, O.S.A.

Jer 1: 4-5, 17-19
Psalm 71: 1-6, 15-17
I Cor 12:31 - 13:14
Luke 4: 21-30

A few summers ago, I was traveling into the city by train, and I picked up a magazine from the seat next to me. It was folded open to a section of job descriptions, and one of them ran something liked this: “The successful applicant will be a dynamic, smart, take-charge individual who is talented, experienced, and able to bring an innovative perspective to management. Candidates must be creative thinkers possessing independent judgment and leadership, outstanding relationship-building skills, analytical ability, and the vision required to challenge employees and drive growth.”

I remember thinking, “These people must think God is looking for a job!” I mean, really, who else could fit all those requirements?

But someone had circled this description in red. Someone looked at those words, all those high expectations, those skills and gifts, and said, “That’s me! I’m dynamic, smart, take-charge, talented, experienced, innovative, and creative! I’m an outstanding, analytical, visionary leader!”

Of course, this talented, intelligent, visionary, up-and-coming go-getter had left the magazine on the train, so how bright could he have been?

Today we hear the job description for a Christian, written by Christ and handed on by Paul: Love is patient, love is kind, it is not pompous, inflated, rude, quick-tempered; it does not rejoice over wrongdoing; it bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

That is the job description of a Christian. And none of us are qualified for the position. None of us have the résumé for this job. If we were flipping though the classified section of the newspaper, or checking out the job board at work, and we saw this job description - “Applicant must be patient, kind, not jealous, not rude” - well, if we are honest, we would turn the page or keep on walking. Who among us would circle this ad in the paper, or take the flier off the bulletin board, and say, “Finally, a job which is tailor-made for me!”?

Paul is saying, “Listen to what Christ expects you to be, and recognize that you cannot do it. You have no hope of getting this job, and no hope of keeping it if you did. Are you patient? Are you free from envy? Are you never happy when someone fails? Do you have what it takes to endure all things?” Paul asks these impossible questions so that we will realize that we cannot be disciples, we cannot follow Christ, we cannot do any of the things Christ expects. We do not have what it takes - by ourselves. On our own, all we have are false hopes, failure, and sin. On our own, all of our good intentions come to nothing.

What is Paul’s answer? The position has been filled. The good news of the Gospel is that what we cannot do, God has already done in Christ. We do not fit the job description, so God became man and through his birth, teaching, and miracles, he does what we cannot; through his care for the sick and the poor, his love poured out in the Eucharist and on the Cross, he does what we cannot; through his Resurrection from the dead, his sending of the Spirit, and his continual life within the Church, he does what we cannot. Jesus Christ was patient, kind, forgiving, and loving. And he makes us fit to be disciples. He hires us as his apprentices. Like Jeremiah, God knew us, each of us, long before any of us came to be: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you...” Before we existed, God was looking forward to this day, to this Mass, getting us ready to receive the body and blood of His Son. Long before we heard the job description, God was training us for the position.

We see this in today’s gospel. A mob takes hold of Jesus, and brings him to the edge of a cliff, and wants to throw him off. Jesus is one man against a mob, a mob enraged by his claim that Nazareth is a town of little faith. Even worse, in that murderous crowd, Jesus probably sees the faces of people he grew up with. Perhaps he sees the faces of men who were friends with St. Joseph, who spent some time chatting in his carpenter’s shop and watched Jesus play as an infant and a child. Perhaps he sees some childhood friends now grown, boys he had played with, and sat with in the synagogue. Not only is the Lord outnumbered, he must be downhearted to see familiar faces in that crowd.

In this situation, if Jesus relies on his own strength, he is lost. Nothing about our faith teaches that Jesus was the strongest man alive, that he could not be hurt. We know he needed food and water and sleep, we know he cried, we know he could be tortured and killed. At this moment, if he tries to fight a crowd of furious townsmen, if he trusts in muscle and bone, he will lose and he will die.

But Luke tells us that Jesus walks right through the crowd and leaves them behind. How? The same way he does everything else in his life: he hands himself over to God, he places his complete trust in the one he calls “Father.” So remarkable is this that Luke does not even try to describe what happens. He doesn’t say that the crowd falls down in awe. He doesn’t say that a bright light comes forth from Jesus and drives everyone away, or that a voice comes from the sky, or a strong wind, or a host of guardian angels. Luke simply says, “Jesus passed through their midst and went away.” The Father rescues His Son from the hands of the wicked. “For it is I this day who have made you a fortified city, a pillar of iron.... They will fight against you, but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”

Jesus turns his entire life over to the Father, and that is the source of his strength, the source of his victory, over this crowd, over our sins, over all death.

All of us grapple with sins, some of the moment, some of long standing. Some grapple with alcoholism, drug abuse, and pornography. Some married couples have slipped into the habit of contraception, and so fallen away from fidelity and trust. Perhaps at work we have eased into casual dishonesty, laziness, and gossip. We are unfriendly to the poor, envious of the blessings of others, experienced bearers of grudges. We are not patient, we are not kind, we are quick to anger, we rejoice in what is false. Given all this, and given the job description Christ has presented us with, we have only one choice: Hand our lives over to Jesus Christ. There is no other option. Give him praise for every success, however small; ask his forgiveness for every sin, however great. Leave off counting up accomplishments and victories, for nothing is ours except what Christ gives us. We enter this world at God’s pleasure, and He receives us when we leave, and in-between, He says: Follow my Son. Imitate him. Say what he says and act as he acts. He will be your strength.

I can’t remember what job was advertised in that paper I found on the train. I remember the description, but not the goal of all those talents and skills. In these words of Scripture and in the new life of the altar, we are reminded what the Christian job description is about: eternal life with God, a life without jealousy and anger, without poverty and death, without any laughter that does not praise the Lord. We begin that job here. We never become the manager. We are always interns, apprentices, trainees. But that is no shame. That is our job. We have been hired not to lead, but to follow, to imitate, and to pray that our earthly work of following Christ, may become, through the endless mercy of the Father, an eternal career.