Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Before I formed you in the womb....
Today’s first reading is from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah lived 600 years before the Lord. 600 years is a long time. Imagine us reading something from 1419. Jeremiah prophesied before the King and the leaders of the people. Then he spoke to the everyday people. He told them all that their lifestyle had brought suffering upon themselves. He told them not to make treaties with the pagans, treaties which would demand they sacrifice to pagan gods and participate in pagan immorality. He told them to trust in God. For this he was persecuted, attacked, even left to die in a cistern. Still, Jeremiah remained true to the Word he had been given. He wouldn’t refrain from preaching or even refine his preaching. He complained that he wished he could keep quiet, but the Word of God was burning like a fire within him. He had to prophesy. Yet, it was not all gloom and doom in Jeremiah. He prophesied that a time would come when God’s covenant would be written within His people’s hearts.
Those are the some of the main points of the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah. But for us, perhaps the most important message of the prophet is contained in today’s first reading from the beginning of the book. The Lord said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” Now, there are many levels to prophetic statements. There is the level that refers to the prophet and his or her time. God was telling Jeremiah that he had picked him out to be his prophet before Jeremiah was even conceived. There is a level that looks down from the prophecy to the time of the Messiah. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you,” speaks about the presence of the Eternal Word of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, and God’s plan for
the Word to become Flesh, a plan put into motion by Mary’s agreeing to be the Mother of the Lord at the Annunciation.
A similar example of the layers of prophecy would be in Isaiah where the King is told that a virgin shall be with a child whose name will be Emmanuel. The people of Isaiah’s time saw this as referring to Hezekiah. As time went on this prophecy was recognized as referring to Jesus.
There is still another level to the prophecy though. It is the level that looks down through the ages, 2,600 years, that looks to us. The overwhelmingly Good News is that before each of us was born, or even conceived, God knew us, each of us. Think about that. God knew you and knew me before our mothers and fathers ever met. He was excited to bring us into being. He was thrilled to call us to proclaim His truth. We are not just random results of nature. We are individuals whom God has been fascinated with from before our existence.
And He calls us to proclaim His Truth. But his call comes with the warning that was given to Jeremiah, “They will fight against you, but I am with you to deliver you.” He will be with us as we proclaim the authentic way of life, living for the Kingdom of God.
Jesus proclaimed the truth in the Synagogue in Nazareth. The people there had heard that He had performed miracles, and they wanted Him to perform some for them. But they didn’t have any faith in Him. They couldn’t get past His family background. So He told them that as in the past, with Elijah and Elisha, he would only perform miracles for those with faith, even if they were Gentiles. They wanted to kill Him for saying this. They rushed Him out of town. They brought Him to a cliff and were about to push Him off, push Him to his death, but it wasn’t his time to die yet. His Father was with Him. Jesus just turned and walked through the crowd. What a scene!
The prophecy about the results of proclaiming the truth given in Jeremiah and witnessed in Jesus’ life on earth continues with us. Some people don’t want to hear us when we proclaim God’s truth with our lives as well as our words. They mock us. They insult us. They vilify us. They want to push us off the cliff of respectability. But the One who called us from before we were conceived, will not desert us. His way, His truth will prevail. There is nothing that anyone can do to us that will force God to leave us. “What can separate us from the Love of God,” St. Paul asks in Romans 8: 38. Nothing can take God from us. If he is for us, who could be against us?
We have to proclaim all that is right and moral and God’s way, but we have to speak with charity. The great praise of love of 1 Corinthians 13, Love is patient, love is kind, and so forth, is far more than a wonderful reading for a wedding. It is God telling us how we are to care for people. We are to proclaim his truth with patience and kindness, and not with all the negatives of the passage from today’s second reading. We cannot proclaim God’s love if we are arrogant, jealous, selfish, angry, and vengeful. If in our determination to proclaim God’s truth, others cannot see the love of God behind our words and actions, then we are not proclaiming His Kingdom. We cannot be using the truth like a two by four to beat people over the head and into submission. If we let our anger determine our actions, even anger over horrible things like abortion, we will get no where. If that’s our way of acting, then we need to grow up. That’s why St. Paul adds in the reading, “When I was a child, I used to talk like a child, think like a child, and reason like a child, but when I became a man I put childish things aside.” God is calling us to be patient and kind with others, even those, especially those, who do horrendous things.
He called us from before we were in our mothers’ wombs. How wonderful is that? He has always loved each of us as individuals. He entrusts us with the mandate to proclaim His Kingdom in a loving way. He assures us that whatever happens in our lives or in our world, whatever dangers lurk, from Islamic terrorism on the extreme right to the exaltation of immorality on the extreme left, even if the worst should happen to the world, to our nation, or to any of us, faith, hope and love will remain. And the greatest of these is love, for God is love and He will never desert us.
To each of us, God is saying today, “I knew you Sharon, Bob, Phil and Mary; add your own name here. I knew you from before you were even conceived. I have called you to proclaim my truth, to be authentic to whom you are, my daughter, my son. I have called you to proclaim the Truth with love. And I promise you, no matter what results from your proclamation, I will always be with you.”