Abolishing Borders

February 1, 2022

Abolishing Borders

 Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Last Sunday’s gospel tells of Jesus entering the synagogue in Nazareth, the place where he spent much of his youth, and reading from the book of Isaiah. This particular passage foretold the day when God would be reconciled with people through his messenger, who had come to free them from their oppression and heal them of all diseases and infirmities. These ‘miracles’ or wonders that he would perform in God’s name would in fact become a true proof or sign of the authority he had received from God to bring people back into his heavenly Kingdom. Imagine the surprise of relatives and friends who had known Jesus, Mary, and Joseph for years, when they heard him say, “Today this passage of Scripture you have just heard is fulfilled.”

The listeners who heard these surprising words coming from his mouth no doubt noticed that he had an exceptional gift to communicate and to comment with remarkable wisdom on this passage of Holy Scripture. But surely Jesus could not get away with saying that he is the prophet or Messiah announced by Isaiah! After all, from his earliest childhood, none of those closest to him had witnessed his power to perform miracles or his ability to cast out demons! In their eyes, his newly acquired reputation was no doubt a figment of the imagination of the poor, impressionable people who were desperately awaiting the coming of the Messiah who had been announced for centuries by the prophets and taught publicly by the priests and scribes in Israel.

Luke the Evangelist reports three distinct moods among the audience during Jesus’ discourse in the synagogue: first the admiration of the crowd who savour his words; then there is a shift to disbelief when he claims to be the one foretold in the book of Isaiah; and finally there is a feeling of indignation or anger when he quotes two passages of Scripture: the first going back to the time of the prophet Elijah at the time of the great famine, and the second when the Syrian pagan Naaman was healed of his leprosy.

By giving these examples, he provokes their indignation, for it is as if he were saying to them bluntly: “You do not believe that I am the deliverer and healer whose coming the prophet Isaiah announced, because you claim to have known me since my childhood. Your human and limited perceptions prevent you from perceiving the heavenly reality that is being manifested before your eyes at this moment, and they are in fact the result of your lack of faith in the mysterious and benevolent providence of the Most High; this is why you do not want to be, nor can you be, witnesses of the divine wonders that have been manifested in other towns and villages, the very ones that have believed in my words and in my person.” Full of fury, considering him from then on an impostor or a false prophet, they then planned to kill him by trying to throw him down a cliff on the hill where their city was built.

But what could have shocked them so much that they wanted to eliminate Jesus on the spot, despite the admiration they had just shown him? Was it only because they had just been humiliated for showing their disbelief? In my opinion, there is an important reason for the extremist behaviour of the crowd: almost all Jews at that time mistakenly believed that God’s salvation was almost exclusively reserved for the chosen people. The Gentile nations were regarded as inferior and second-class beings, “dogs” as they were commonly called, because they lived without any reference to the one and only living God, and because they had never been the object of manifestations of God’s glory and omnipotence, in contrast to the children of Israel who had witnessed them since they left Egypt. Could such extraordinary interventions of God not have the effect of inflating or provoking the pride of the Hebrew people? Would they not be entitled to feel and experience a certain sense of superiority, since the chosen people were suddenly privileged over the other nations of the earth, who had never experienced such personalized and historic divine interventions or manifestations?

When Jesus quoted Scripture and recalled the example of the Gentiles who had earned exceptional favours from God, much to the dismay of the Jewish people of the time, he implicitly reminded his audience that the reason why there were no longer any divine manifestations among the chosen people at that time was that the people of Israel had drifted away from God and the Covenant that he had once offered to all the members of the community of Israel at the time of Moses. The covenant that their ancestors had agreed to follow faithfully by obeying all its commandments all the days of their lives. This willingness to walk in God’s ways at all times by following the Covenant’s commands obviously extended to all Israelite generations to come. The deprivation of rain for three-and-a half-years was thus intended to be a God-permitted opportunity for correction, for the great suffering caused by the resulting famine could provoke deep reflection among all the members of the chosen people, and possibly prompt the people’s willingness to return to God with all their hearts, while renewing their desire to be faithful to His Covenant once again. In this sense, the trial (or chastisement, if you like) was desired or permitted by God, for its purpose was to enable the unfaithful people to be converted and thus to be reintroduced into his Fatherly heart.

Recalling these two scriptural texts, where special graces were granted to Gentiles during a period of divine chastisement, was a way of showing his audience that their lack of faith in Him was comparable to the lack of faith and lack of fidelity that their ancestors had experienced in the past. Pride and a national feeling that Israel is ‘a chosen and privileged nation’ was suddenly awakened among the people in the synagogue. A contagious rage took hold of them, and they wanted not only to expel the well-known “impostor” from their sacred place, but also to take his life. Imagine that! To want to take the life of a loved one or a relative because he claims to be a messenger of God, and because he has allowed people to heal and regain their dignity and inner freedom. As we see in our contemporary society, the emotions and feelings of certain groups or individuals who become irritated by those who oppose their ideas, sometimes cause them to lose their way completely. Reason and logic evaporate and often lead to emotional or incomprehensible reactions, which sometimes become uncontrollable and violent. This Sunday’s Gospel gives us a reminder of this.

The people of the synagogue understood that the reason why no wonders were manifested in their city was that they lacked faith in the person of Jesus and in the special and prophetic mission that God had entrusted to him. But their rage reaches its peak when they feel directly targeted by the two examples he quotes from Holy Scripture. Their lack of faith, listening and trust in Him, the one sent by God and announced by the prophet Isaiah, not only leads them to a rage that pushes them to want to commit murder, but eventually, this rage will push them to want to eliminate all the followers of the so-called impostor. As I tried to explain earlier, the idea of the chosen people who know that they are privileged by God over the other nations plays a crucial role in their ability to understand and accept the universal plan of salvation that Jesus comes to offer to all people, and this by the will and in the name of God himself. This is the key to understanding this Sunday’s gospel.

In light of this gospel, we can say that Jesus came to abolish the borders between Jews and Gentiles. But this conclusion could also be applied to our daily lives: even if we call ourselves good Christians, do we sometimes get angry when someone dares to upset our long-held views and traditions or ways of doing things? Do we know how to keep our inner calm, or do we sometimes give in to verbal violence by counter-attacking others because they have thoughts that are opposed to our own? Or do we usually suppress or hide our emotional or aggressive thoughts inside ourselves when we are upset or rejected? Jesus’ reaction to the huffing and puffing of his countrymen reminds us that despite the many rejections, even from those closest to us, we must simply imitate Jesus and go on our way while walking in the midst of our opponents: “But he, passing through them, went his way.” Jesus always proclaims the truth, but he does so with charity and in a non-violent way. He reminds us never to fear our opponents, even the “Goliaths” who sometimes surprise us on the road, and to always trust in the grace of God, who always walks with us and lives within those who love and obey him with a pure and persevering faith.

In these difficult times that we are living in during the present pandemic, in the face of directives, words or actions emanating from our authorities or from those close to us, which sometimes, despite good intentions, result in creating divisions and distrust among us – whether in our families, our workplaces or even within our Christian communities – let us always choose to walk in the path of love and truth, calmly and in a spirit that cannot tolerate a single ounce of violence, on the road to self-respect and respect for the people we come into contact with or meet in our daily lives.

Let us always follow the example of our divine Saviour, who is gentle and humble of heart, who came to abolish the borders that separate and create unnecessary divisions between peoples and individuals. He is the bridge that allows God to communicate with people again and again, the bridge that allows us to cross or demolish the borders that distance us from one another, or that lead us into an abyss of mistrust or indifference towards our neighbour… and sometimes towards ourselves!

To this end, may the Holy Spirit, Divine Love in person, descend and dwell in the depths of our hearts and minds to make us conform in every way to the image of the God and Father who created us in his image.


Sincerely yours in Christ our Redeemer,

+ Guy Desrochers, C.Ss.R.
Bishop of Pembroke

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