Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Lord Has Sent Me To Bring Glad Tidings To The Poor.

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading I                 Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10
Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly,
which consisted of men, women,
and those children old enough to understand.
Standing at one end of the open place
that was before the Water Gate,
he read out of the book from daybreak till midday,
in the presence of the men, the women,
and those children old enough to understand;
and all the people listened attentively to the book of the law.
Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform
that had been made for the occasion.
He opened the scroll
so that all the people might see it
— for he was standing higher up than any of the people —;
and, as he opened it, all the people rose.
Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God,
and all the people, their hands raised high, answered,
“Amen, amen!”
Then they bowed down
and prostrated themselves before the LORD,
their faces to the ground.
Ezra read plainly from the book of the law of God,
interpreting it so that all could understand what was read.
Then Nehemiah, that is, His Excellency, and Ezra the priest-scribe
and the Levites who were instructing the people
said to all the people:
“Today is holy to the LORD your God.
Do not be sad, and do not weep”—
for all the people were weeping
as they heard the words of the law.
He said further: “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks,
and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared;
for today is holy to our LORD.
Do not be saddened this day,
for rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength!”
+++    +++    +++    +++   
Responsorial          Psalm 19

Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul;
The decree of the LORD is trustworthy,
giving wisdom to the simple.
Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
The precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
The command of the LORD is clear,
enlightening the eye.
Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever;
The ordinances of the LORD are true,
all of them just.
Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
Let the words of my mouth and the thought of my heart
find favor before you,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
+++    +++    +++    +++   
Reading II               1 Corinthians 12:12-30
Brothers and sisters:
As a body is one though it has many parts,
and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body,
so also Christ.
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,
whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons,
and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.

Now the body is not a single part, but many.
If a foot should say,
“Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body, “
it does not for this reason belong any less to the body.
Or if an ear should say,
“Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body, “
it does not for this reason belong any less to the body.

If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?
If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?
But as it is, God placed the parts,
each one of them, in the body as he intended.
If they were all one part, where would the body be?
But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you, “
nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.”
Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker
are all the more necessary,
and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable
we surround with greater honor,
and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety,
whereas our more presentable parts do not need this.
But God has so constructed the body
as to give greater honor to a part that is without it,
so that there may be no division in the body,
but that the parts may have the same concern for one another.
If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it;
if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.

Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.
Some people God has designated in the church
to be, first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers;
then, mighty deeds;
then gifts of healing, assistance, administration,
and varieties of tongues.
Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?
Do all work mighty deeds? Do all have gifts of healing?
Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?
+++    +++    +++    +++  
Gospel                   Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21
Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events
that have been fulfilled among us,
just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning
and ministers of the word have handed them down to us,
I too have decided,
after investigating everything accurately anew,
to write it down in an orderly sequence for you,
most excellent Theophilus,
so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings
you have received.

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit,
and news of him spread throughout the whole region.
He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all.

He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up,
and went according to his custom
into the synagogue on the sabbath day.
He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring 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.
Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down,
and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.
He said to them,
“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing."

IN THIS THIRD YEAR of the Sunday Scripture cycle we begin today to read the Gospel according to Luke. During the Ordinary Sundays of this year it is Luke’s story about Christ that we will be following.

Today’s Gospel passage is in two distinct parts. It begins with the opening paragraph of Luke’s account. It is addressed to a friend, Theophilus [‘beloved of God’]. Luke implies that Theophilus has already been instructed orally in the message of Jesus but Luke will now present him with an accurate and orderly account of Jesus’ life and teaching.

Luke clearly acknowledges that he himself never saw Jesus. His gospel was written at least 50 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Yet he wants to assure his friend that what he writes is accurate and is based on the experiences of people who did know Jesus personally.

At the same time, it is important to remember that Luke, like the other evangelists who have differing versions of the same events, is not writing a biography. His first purpose – as we see in the second part of today’s passage – is to tell us the meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection for our personal lives and why we should accept and follow Jesus as our King and Lord.

Preparation for his work

The second part of today’s passage involves a jump in the text. We leapfrog from the opening paragraph of Luke’s gospel to Jesus’ first public appearance in his hometown of Nazareth. In between are the story of the Annunciation, Zachary and Elizabeth, the births of John the Baptist and of Jesus, the baptism of Jesus and the temptations in the desert. We have, in other words, jumped from chapter 1 to chapter 4 in the gospel text.

All that has been described before is really a preparation for today’s scene. For what we are seeing here is the solemn inauguration of Jesus’ public life and mission.

Immediately before this he had been down at the River Jordan with his cousin, John the Baptist, and, following his baptism, he had his strange experience in the desert [to be discussed on the First Sunday of Lent]. So the Gospel says that Jesus “with the power of the Spirit in him” (arising from his Baptism and his triumph over the Evil One) “returned to Galilee”. Galilee is the northern province of Israel to which Jesus belonged. And he went back to Nazareth “where he had been brought up”.

A purposeful journey

Luke very deliberately has Jesus start his work here. His public life will be a single, direct journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem, the focal point of the story told by Luke in his gospel and in the Acts. Unlike the other accounts, there will be no going back and forth between Galilee and Jerusalem. And it is in Jerusalem, the city of peace, that Jesus will suffer and die. It is here that he will rise to life and become our Lord and Savior. And it is from here too that his disciples will go forth to every corner of the world with the Good News.

So it is that on this first day he goes into the synagogue “according to his custom” on the Sabbath day. (Jesus was an observant Jew. His attacks were never on the Law as such but on its interpretation and abuses. He came, as he said, not to destroy, or replace, the Law but to fulfil it.)

There were no priests in the synagogue, which was simply a prayer hall. The priests were in the Temple, the only place where sacrifice was held. Every male Jew had a right to read the Scriptures and to speak to the assembly.

Mission statement

As Jesus stood up to read, a passage from the prophet Isaiah was given to him. It was a passage about the coming Messiah. What happens now, of course, is that Jesus is announcing that he himself is that Messiah. He applies the words of the prophet to himself. “The spirit of the Lord has been given to me [at his baptism], for he has anointed me.”

“He has anointed me.” That is a way of saying “I am a king”. A king was proclaimed by anointing. We remember the prophet Samuel anointing David as king. The Greek for Messiah is “Christos” which means “the anointed one”. Savior King, Messiah, Christ – they here all mean the same thing. Jesus Christ means Jesus King. “Christ” is an explanatory title; it is not a name.

And what kind of king is Jesus going to be? There immediately follows a proclamation, a program or manifesto of what we can expect from him. Today we might call it a ‘mission statement’. The words are to be taken both literally and symbolically.

Good news for the disadvantaged

They are addressed directly to the materially poor, those in prison, the physically blind, the oppressed and exploited of the world. While Matthew speaks of “the poor in spirit”, Luke addresses the beatitude directly to “you who are poor, weep, are hungry and oppressed”. The message for them is one of hope, of healing and of liberation. This will come about not by some miracle but by the transformation of those who, aligning themselves with Jesus, can put an end to these things.

But the message is surely to be understood symbolically as well, so as to include all of us. For wherever a society includes both rich and poor, powerful and weak, oppressors and oppressed, all are in equal need of liberation.

So, in addition to the materially poor, there are those who are emotionally underdeveloped, those who are lonely or rejected, those who are crushed by their need to be surrounded by material plenty… all are poor, really poor. And they include all of us at some time.

The unfree

In addition to those held in captivity, especially those who are unjustly in prison but also those who, guilty of some crime, need conversion and reconciliation, there are many, many who are far from free. Very few people indeed are truly free and many actually fear true freedom and the responsibility that goes with it. True freedom is something for all of us to pray for.

“Give sight to the blind.” There is a kind of instinct that makes people in some cultures consult the blind as sources of a special insight. Physical blindness is far less disabling than the blindness that comes from prejudice, ignorance, jealousy and other emotional blocks.

Most people, said a writer, “lead lives of quiet desperation”. Societies which often boast of their freedom create sometimes unbearable pressures on people. We need to become aware, here in our own society, to what extent we are living under pressures we could well do without.

A shared life

How do Jesus’ words reach us today? The answer, I believe, is in today’s Second Reading. The problem with our Christian living is that it is so individualistic. We try to manage things on our own. And that is even true of the way we try to live our Christian lives. But it is not the picture that Paul describes here. He sees the multiplicity of Christians as living members of one Body. Each member interacts in a constant giving and receiving. And each member gets the same respect. In fact, it is the “weakest” and “least honorable” parts which receive greater attention. That is how the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel become living realities. For it is in mutual giving and receiving as one Body that we enable each other to experience the enrichment (overcoming our poverty), the vision (banishing our blindness), and the freedom (removing the oppressions and addictions) which Jesus wishes us to have.

Finally, we cannot help noticing the contrast between the proclamation of the Law in the First Reading and that of Jesus in the Gospel. The Law was essential for dignity, human rights and freedom but there is a new ingredient in what Jesus gives – compassion. That’s what makes the difference.

Living Space
The Irish Jesuits

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