Rejection: setback or setup
Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19; Psalm 70; 1Corinthians 12:31-13:13; Luke 4:21-30
It is said that as a student, the young Mahatma Gandhi (who incidentally was killed on this day in 1948) began to read the Gospels and even considered embracing Christianity. Awed by the Sermon on the Mount, he believed that the teachings of Jesus offered a solution to the caste system that divided the people of India. So, one Sunday he decided to attend services at a nearby church and talk to the minister about becoming a Christian. When he entered the church, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go worship with his own people. Gandhi left the church and never returned. “If Christians have caste differences also,” he said, “I might as well remain a Hindu.” That usher’s prejudice not only betrayed Jesus but also turned a person away from knowing Jesus more closely. God’s message is in the messenger, the Word-Incarnate, the Christ, the anointed Messiah — so much more than just a miracle-worker.
Allegedly, Mahatma at one point even said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Rejection may be regarded as a setback. But may it also be a setup for something greater?
The Gospel Reading this Sunday begins with how it ended last Sunday: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke highly of him. But a moment later, they were all against Jesus. He did not satisfy their superficial expectations and demands. They only regarded him as a “miracle worker” who should perform according to their terms. Prejudice has turned the faithful congregation into a raucous mob that wanted to kill Jesus. But Jesus just walked away. Who missed the opportunity for greater things? At this point, Jesus was still alone, he had no disciples yet. He was alone in this pain of rejection.
No one looks forward to rejection. Our primal instinct tells us to fear and flee or just cope.
The First Reading today gives the example of Jeremiah. Though called and formed in the womb to become a prophet, Jeremiah was forewarned of the challenges of resistance and rejection that he would have to go through. In the Gospel, Jesus also mentioned Israel’s resistance against and rejection of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. Jesus did not just cite examples, He Himself became the living example of whom the people’s stubbornness of heart resisted and rejected.
Now we ask, may that rejection be regarded as a setback or a setup for something greater? The Lord’s initial experience of rejection was a prefiguration of what would be fully realized at Calvary.
St Paul offers the solution: love, unconditional love. Just like how God loves. Indiscriminate love. Not self-serving love that only promotes self-interest and safeguards reputation.
The legendary basketball coach John Wooden is often quoted saying: “Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
Jeremiah was assured that through all the tribulations, he would be delivered.
This is what we beg God at our monastic solemn profession, “Suscipe me. Uphold me, receive me O Lord.”
So that like Christ, with Christ and through Christ, we may persevere in our response to God’s call to be with him and for him all our monastic days.
The challenge is to walk away with Jesus from what prevents the fulfillment of God’s designs and wait for the kairos moment. Even God cannot do anything to a self-centered heart but to invite and wait. And as sometimes we are the ones with the stubborn heart, with a prejudiced heart, let us listen to St Paul who proclaimed, love is patient… until we are ready to own, to claim, and to sing of God’s salvation!
So,as we pray that we may overcome the challenges of rejection, let us likewise pray that we may not present obstacles but offer encouragement to people who seek God.