Sermon for 4th Sunday in Ordinary time

I’m Father Tad. T-A-D. I’m not Father Ted. That’s a completely different character (I hope). From my accent you can rightly guess that’s I’m ‘nae Scottish’; or – to be more precise – neither was I born nor brought up in Scotland. But, according to my DNA research, I’m 11.3 percent Scottish. Is that good enough? Well, I hope so. I certainly love Scotland; otherwise I wouldn’t have stayed here for over 11.3 years. As for the rest of my genetic composition, I’m Central European, Baltic (very appropriate for weather in Aberdeen) and Jewish. To make things even more confusing, I’m legally British. In other words, I am a pure breed mongrel – and proud of it. What am I doing here, in this parish? Dare I say, I’m responding to the call from today’s first reading: ‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you came to birth, I consecrated you; I have appointed you as prophet to the nations.’

I don’t think that the last sentence catches our attention. It should. Because it was absolutely revolutionary at the time of its original pronouncement and remained so for another few centuries afterwards. The ancient people of Israel considered other nations as inferior and kept themselves separate as much as they could. They were God’s chosen nation; other peoples were condemned. So, such an announcement as in today’s first reading (I have appointed you as prophet to the nations) was dangerous. How dangerous? We can see that in today’s gospel. Jesus refers to two miraculous events that happened in the past; in both cases the miracles happened to the pagans. The way Jesus presents those two stories is shocking to his audience: ‘There were many widows in Israel, I can assure you, in Elijah’s day; but Elijah was not sent to any one of these: he was sent to a widow at Zarephath, a Sidonian town. And in the prophet Elisha’s time there were many lepers in Israel, but none of these was cured, except the Syrian, Naaman.’ The congregation responds with fury; Jesus is hustled out of the town to be thrown down the cliff, i.e. killed. Going against well-established national and religious perceived supremacy was dangerous to the point of death. In some places it’s still that dangerous. I hope Aberdeen is not one of them.

As I mentioned earlier on, I’m here in response to God’s call: I have appointed you as prophet to the nations. Two elements here need some explanation. The word prophet in the Bible means ‘a person regarded as an inspired teacher or proclaimer of the will of God’, not someone foretelling the future. Clairvoyance certainly isn’t one of my talents. Whether I am an inspired teacher only time will tell; but don’t hold your breath. The second bit that needs some explanation is this: nations. It’s plural. In practical terms it means that I am not ‘a Polish priest’ or ‘a Scottish priest’ or any other ‘ish’. I am a Catholic priest. The word catholic means universal. I was ordained to serve each and every one God wants to send me to, regardless of their nationality, gender, race or political views. God created us in so many different shapes and forms; so it must be good. Such a great variety of individual and collective experiences, cultural, national and historical backgrounds can be extremely enriching, if we keep our hearts and minds open. Of course, it’s not going to be easy. That’s why all of us ought to take to heart another call from today’s first reading: ‘So now brace yourself for action.’ Whatever form or shape that action is going to take, the driving force behind must be the one St Paul described beautifully in today’s second reading: ‘Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offence and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.’