Home Scripture Reflection Jesus was ‘unavoidably misunderstood’ in first public teaching

Father James P. Walker

Jesus was ‘unavoidably misunderstood’ in first public teaching Print E-mail
Written by Father James Walker   
Friday, 22 January 2010 00:00


Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 24, 2010

Nehemiah 8: 2-4a, 5-6, 8-10

1 Corinthians 12: 12-30

Gospel of 1: 1-4; 4: 14-21


Relationships invariably are prone to misunderstanding. Take the couple, Tom and Grace, who attended a seminar on communication. They listened to the instructor who told them, “It is essential that a husband and wife know each other’s likes and dislikes.” He then turned his attention to the men. “Husbands,” he continued, “can you name your wife’s favorite flower?” Tom leaned over, gently nudged his wife’s arm, and whispered, “It’s Pillsbury, isn’t it?” They were a perfect match — for a communication seminar, that is.


From the time Jesus opened his mouth, he was unavoidably misunderstood. What happened at Nazareth clearly illustrates this. As a town of roughly 2,000 inhabitants with three major roads nearby, Nazareth and its synagogue seemed a likely setting for Jesus’ first public teaching. Can you imagine the priest at Mass asking for someone to volunteer to read and give a homily? No way, right? But that’s how it worked in Jesus’ day. The Book of the day was Isaiah the prophet. The synagogue leader called on Jesus. It was up to him to choose the verses. And did he! “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to being glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” This passage, Isaiah 61: 1-2 and 58:6, was the opening Jesus needed to identify himself as the anointed one who would restore God’s people, especially the poor and oppressed. But his audience was off the reservation from the start. He wasn’t there to overthrow the Roman occupiers and storm the prisons. Instead, he came to restore our relationships, with God, with ourselves, and with each other. Any new social order would be based on this fact alone.


Today many people suffer from a dearth of happy and healthy relationships. We may admire or envy Warren Buffet, Oprah Winfrey, and Bill Gates. But their big bucks and celebrity clout aren’t the real prize. Our relationships — God, others, ourselves — are the bedrock of our lives. Jesus, as you surely have noticed, invested the bulk of his time and energy in relationships. His life was saturated with prayer to His Father. He chose to spend huge chunks of time with his disciples. They lived together, talked, listened, laughed, and cried. That’s what a family does. Jesus’ life was all about relationships. And when our relationship with God is right, this affects our whole lives and all our relationships as well.


A few weeks ago a woman told me that when their family sat down for dinner on Christmas day, not everyone came to talk and listen. Her two grandchildren were “all thumbs.” They never looked up from those “gadgets,” as she called them. Exasperated, she told me, “No more gadgets. Family time is family time.” It reminded me of the time I saw a man juggling his Blackberry at a restaurant while his wife fumed at his inattention. I heard her say, “You want to marry that thing? Fine! You can sleep with it tonight.”


A woman whose husband died in his 30s — she is now 67 — told me recently, “Sometimes I feel cheated. I never remarried. My close friends all have their husbands. But when I think about it more, I am blessed after all. No wars going on in our family. My kids are always there for me. The grandkids are precious. If only I could lose some weight and cut down on the chocolate.”


Nothing wrong with a little chocolate! In fact, annual sales are up around the world (2-1/2 percent in America, 17 percent in India). It’s a comfort food, they say. But the best bargain for comfort doesn’t come on a shelf. Besides, life’s pretty poor when it’s all thumbs.


Father Walker is pastor of Warren SS. Cyril & Methodius and, effective Aug. 1, St. James parishes. Write him at 185 Laird Ave., Warren OH 44483 or e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


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