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Bishop's Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Who do you think you are?

By Bishop Larry Silva
January 30, 2022

[St. Anthony of Padua Church, Kailua (Pastor Installation)]

Who do you think you are?

That was the message that the people of Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth delivered to him in no uncertain terms – by trying to throw him off a cliff!  This hometown boy, the son of Joseph the carpenter, had the audacity to challenge the faith of the people of Israel to point out the truth that they had chosen to ignore – that God worked his miracles not only for the Jews but for the Gentiles as well.  What nerve he had to confront them for their stubbornness and hardness of heart.  They reacted with such rage that they wanted to eradicate this upstart townsmate.

“Who do you think you are?” is normally what people say in one way or other when they are confronted with something they do not want to hear.  Jeremiah the prophet knew this very well, as did Paul the Apostle.  Both suffered greatly because they spoke the truth when people preferred to ignore the truth and go their own merry ways.

On this occasion of the installation of your new pastor, our attention is naturally focused on the parish itself.  It will be his duty to proclaim the Gospel to you who gather here in this church Sunday after Sunday; to continue to support you as a community marked by hospitality and love; to make sure that the parish school, the religious education programs, the process of Christian Initiation of Adults and the business operations of the parish are efficient and effective.  But sometimes he may need to challenge you, to tell you things you would rather not hear.  Your initial reaction may very well be “Who does he think he is?”  But don’t throw him over the cliff by walking out and going your own way.  Engage, because it might very well be exactly what needs to be said to bring greater fidelity to this community and to help it grow in its mission.

But I would like to challenge not only your new pastor but all of you to remember something very important.  Your mission is not only to the people who come here to church.  In fact, the vast majority of people who live in the boundaries of this parish do not go to any church, do not know Jesus Christ except as a historical figure, and do not necessarily live by the principles that Jesus teaches us through his living Body, the Church.  These are the people to whom the Lord sends you on mission, just as he sent Jeremiah and Paul.  It is our essential mission to reach out to those who are not with us, who are the Syrians and Sidonians of our day.  They are our neighbors, our coworkers, our friends, but if they do not know and love Jesus, they are lacking one of the greatest treasures of life.  They may not want to hear our talking about Jesus, but we need to talk about him anyway.  They may not want to hear that life is precious from the moment of conception to natural death, but we are called to proclaim that Gospel of Life.  They may just want to be left alone without another thing to do on Sundays or without demands that will change their lives, but our mission is not to leave them alone at all!  Yes, they may say, “Who do you think you are?”  They may want to throw us off a cliff.  But it is still our mission to reach out to them, and if we are not faithful to this mission, then we should not be surprised if the Lord does not work his miracles among us.

Paul, in his beautiful Hymn to Love, gives us the greatest caution, however.  We must constantly examine our motives to make sure they are based on love, not on competition, pride, or condescension.  Love does not always say things people want to hear – as parents know very well when they must tell their children what the children do not want to hear, precisely because they love them.  But it will always purify our motives and bear within it the seed of grace.  We have to wonder, after this angry and dramatic scene of the people of Nazareth, whether at least some of them thought more deeply about what Jesus said and later had a change of heart because he dared to plant the seeds of truth in their hearts and minds.  So we can hope that, even though reactions may be negative and strong to our prophetic mission, the seeds planted can bear much good fruit.

Many would consider Jeremiah a failure, yet here we are thousands of years later still learning from him.  Many thought Paul was a crazy zealot, but here we are two thousand years later savoring his reflections on love.  Many thought Jesus was finished and silenced forever by his crucifixion, but he lives on today, here, now to transform us and to send us out in the power of the Holy Spirit to share his Good News with all.

Who do you think you are?  You are the beloved of God, who have been called to be intimate members of the Body of Christ, so that through you, Jesus can continue his ministry of proclaiming repentance for the forgiveness of sins and his service of healing the world with his love.