Luke 4:21-30, Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The weather has been quite cool these days. Some parts of the northern half of the globe are even in deep freeze. The southern half is probably scorching. I have been asked if all this is because of climate change. The short answer is most probably yes, with a quick qualification that weather is not climate. Climate is the average of weather. Surely, the outliers or extreme events (such as cold spells) affect the average. But shifts in the average or the normal will also affect the incidence of outliers or extremes. All this is just to say that climate change can be quite complicated.
We see these wild swings of weather in the Gospel today. One moment, Jesus is hot, he is a rock star. People are praising him to high heavens for his wisdom. They wonder, is this not the son of the carpenter? The next moment, he is not cool, he is driven out of their lives and people try to throw him off the cliff. Perhaps they ask again, in justification of their anger, is he not just the son of the carpenter?
Hot and cold, praise and hostility. How do we make sense of these wild swings of emotion toward Christ our Lord?
Perhaps the only way we can make sense of our own volatile reaction is to admit, with St Paul in his letter to the Corinthians today, that we can only “see indistinctly, as in a mirror.” Our knowledge of God and our appreciation of love is incomplete. We are like children, unable to “put aside childish things.” We know little about God. The thing about blindspots is that you don’t see them. To see that you do not see everything is, well, difficult.
Such is the danger we face in this our time of digital hyperconnection. The massification of data and opinion in online space may have been a boon but this kind of breadth has also spawned superficiality on a scale never before experienced by humanity. This “globalization of superficiality” (as coined by former Jesuit general Adolfo Nicolas) is tragic. Couple that with our newfound penchant for speed and immediacy, and we have a formula for profound disconnection and infantile ignorance, not to mention hurtful arrogance.
In ocean physics, waves acquire amplitude as they roll toward shallow water. You see this in surf and shoreline. The lack of depth is made up for by the height of the wave. Some of these waves get so high that they end up breaking and crashing on the surface.
And so perhaps, the highs and lows of our volatile reaction to God or truth or love can be traced to shallowness.
The prophet Jeremiah was warned about this. In the first reading, God tells him, “They will fight against you.” Love may be patient and kind, but love will be scourged at the pillar. Truth can stand on the strength of its own power, but truth will be crucified by those who are threatened by the truth, by those who choose to lead surface lives.
And yet in the same breath, God assures the prophet, “Be not crushed on their account, as though I would leave you crushed before them.”
Indeed, as the crowds threaten to crush him over the cliff, Jesus goes right through them. He vanishes. Or perhaps their dark emotions blind them to his presence. He lets them be, leaving them to seethe in their anger, leaving them alone to lead their shallow lives. God forbid that he should leave us to our own dark devices.
In truth, God does not leave us. On the cross, love stays. Love may be crushed but love does not vanish. Love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
If love can be this steadfast and firm, perhaps it is only because love thrives in deep water, away from the shallows and thrashing on the shore.