HOMILY: SUNDAY 3 ‘C’ 2019
Today’s Gospel presents us with Jesus preaching in the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth. And, as he often did in the course of his ministry, he quotes now from the Old Testament – on this occasion, from the Prophet Isaiah. For what we call the Old Testament was Jesus’ Bible – he was a Jew and it was the Jewish Scriptures that formed him from his childhood.
We need especially to remember this truth about Jesus’ Jewishness today – because today is ‘Holocaust Memorial Day’. On this day we remember the millions who suffered and perished in the Holocaust – in the horrific concentration camps and in the ghettoes and in so many places of darkness across Europe – and we need always to remember and keep in the forefront of our minds that all these man and women and children were of the same race and were nurtured on the same Scriptures as the One we honour as Lord and Saviour and Son of God.
During the many centuries of Christian culture this truth about the Jewishness of Jesus and about the respect we his followers must consequently have for the Jewish People has often been forgotten. At times the Church seems effectively to have denied or obscured the significance of what we call the Old Testament. I have heard many Catholics of an older generation say that at school the Old Testament remained a closed book to them. The significance of the fact that in the Gospels Jesus time and again quoted from what we call the Old Testament seems not to have registered over many centuries in much of Christendom.
Yet St Paul, in a lengthy section of his Letter to the Romans, write show the Jewish People remain loved by God and have a lasting place in his providential purposes. As we observe Holocaust Memorial Day, it is worthwhile to re-visit some of St Paul’s profound reflections.
At the beginning of Chapter 9 of the Letter to the Romans, St Paul says: ‘I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen by race’. At the beginning of Chapter 10 he expresses the same heartfelt prayer: ‘My heart’s desire and prayer for them – the Jewish People – is that they may be saved’. And then in Chapter 11 he goes much further: he acknowledges the Jews’ refusal to believe in Christ, but then goes on: ‘So I ask….if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!’ ‘What will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?’
And finally, St Paul uses the image of branches being grafted back into the tree. ‘God has the power to graft them in again’. And he concludes: ‘As regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable….O the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways!’
So as we pray on this day for all who died in the Holocaust and all who suffered
Terrible loss and bereavement, let us also remember with great respect our ‘elder brothers and sisters’ who are members of God’s Covenant People – and let us be determined to reject and disown the anti-semitism, which still tragically infects our society and culture.