Nehemiah 8:2-6, 8-10; 1Corinthians 12:12-30; Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21
People must have been really shocked and amazed when Jesus announced: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Many were expecting the messiah to be a mighty king, a powerful leader who would restore the political kingdom of Israel. But they find the young man so well known to them makes that claim. At the same time they should have been happy when a person not much of a stranger tells them that he would save them. He tells them that God is close at hand. He tells them that this God is a healer and will never be indifferent to them. He will love them, free them and protect them. Today the same Jesus extends that compassion care and protection to each one of us. He tells us that he is the healer and we have to be like him to continue his sacred work.
Today’s First Reading taken from the Book of Nehemiah tells us how much importance was placed in those days on knowing and obeying the Law of Moses. In the days of Nehemiah, anyone who had reached the age of reason and could hear with understanding, he was required to be present and to listen to the reading of the law. They were called upon to live the law in total fidelity. Historically, Ezra and Nehemiah were given the task of rebuilding the community that had come back from their exile. They had to rebuild their Temple. But Ezra first starts rebuilding their hearts. Ezra dramatises the crucial role of the word of God. He stands on a platform and reads it from daybreak to noon. People had to listen and understand the law and receive it with fervour. They raise their hands and respond with a double Amen. They lie down on the ground and offer total submission to the Lord. There is hope for the people whose strength is the Lord and the prophets urge them to rejoice.
Today’s Second Reading from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians revealed to us how important it is for the members of the Body of Christ to be united. Each of us has been called to serve the Lord Jesus. 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 honourable” parts which receive greater attention. For it is in mutual giving and receiving as one Body that we enable each other to experience the enrichment, the vision , and the freedom which Jesus wishes us to have. The problem with our Christian living is that it is so individualistic. We try to manage things on our own. God has called each one of us for a different function. But the unity of the church is in its source in the one Spirit. Though there are many members as in a human body, the body of the church is one. At the same time, each member of the human body is distinct and so also is the body of Christ. Every member needs the other and the one with superior function does not become superior. All members are to care for and honour one another.
Luke is the only Gospel that begins with a prologue. It sets forth the motivation for composing the story of Jesus. Luke accepts that he is not the first one to write but he wants to be accurate, based on the earliest of traditions. He writes to Theophilus who may have been a recent convert or a benefactor of the author. He wishes to give him that certain account of Jesus and convince him of his faith. Theophilus means lover of God or the beloved of God and actually it means each one of us. 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.
From the Prologue today we move directly to the event of the return of Jesus to Nazareth after his successful Galilean ministry. Galilee is the northern province of Israel to which Jesus belonged. And he went back to Nazareth “where he had been brought up”. By the time he returns home he is already empowered by the Holy Spirit. Luke very deliberately has Jesus start his work here. His public life will be a single, direct journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem, unlike the other Gospel accounts. And it is in Jerusalem, the city of peace, where Jesus will suffer and die. It is here that he will rise to life and become our Lord and Saviour. And it is from here too that his disciples will go forth to every corner of the world with the Good News.
The setting for the story is the Sabbath day service in the Synagogue. 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 in the synagogue and to speak to the assembly. Jesus is called upon to read the lesson and he chooses the text from Prophet Isaiah, about the restoration of Zion. What is stressed in the scripture reading is the description of the coming of the messianic age. It looks to the future with great hope and longing. The Prophet is commissioned to proclaim the good news to the poor and other related activities to be performed by the messiah. These are the extra ordinary tasks specially set aside for the redeemer of the universe.
In this Gospel passage we heard Jesus proclaiming that the year of the Lord’s favour as it was written in the Scripture has been fulfilled in their hearing. By this Jesus meant that the long awaited messianic jubilee had finally arrived. The promised messianic salvation had finally come. Jesus affirmed that He was the long awaited Messiah that God the Father had promised to His people throughout the days of the Old Testament. In His proclamation, Jesus said that He had been anointed to bring good news to the poor, He had been sent to release the captives, for the recovery of sight of the blind and to let the oppressed go free. Literally taken with a worldly approach, these words imply that Jesus had come to bring abundance to those who were poor, to free the slaves and the prisoners, to heal the blind and to stop all worldly oppression. But this was not what Jesus meant. Embracing a spiritual approach, it becomes clear that the proclamation of the Lord Jesus was to announce the arrival of the Kingdom of God on earth. The Kingdom of God was the good news that Jesus was proclaiming. For the arrival of the Kingdom of God to be fulfilled, it meant the arrival of the promised Messiah. It meant that those who were spiritually blind would be enlightened; now being able to see the way, the truth and the life. It meant that those who were captives of sin would be free and liberated in the kingdom.
After reading the text Jesus simply declares that the passage is fulfilled in their hearing. This would have been shocking for the hearers. By applying this text to him, Jesus places himself in the same prophetic line as Elijah and Elisha. He declares himself to have been anointed by God to carry out and fulfil God’s plan for Israel. In other words Jesus is saying that the messianic age is here and he is the one anointed by God to bring it to fulfilment. The content of the text will be the driving force behind all that Jesus says and does. Jesus is the fulfilment of all the prophetic promises that have gone before him. 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.
With those 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. Again are 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. Jesus speaks of blindness and healing. Physical blindness is far less disabling than the blindness that comes from prejudice, ignorance, jealousy and other emotional blocks. Jesus aims to reach out to every one and provide them with a new identity and dignity. That is his mission role as the one filled with the Spirit. In the first reading we heard of the proclamation of the law. And Jesus too does it in the Gospel. The Law was essential for dignity, human rights and freedom but there is a new ingredient in what Jesus gives – compassion. As we continue the celebration of the Holy Mass, let us pray for one another, that through our Christian Unity, the Body of Christ may come to its fullness so the Lord God may be glorified in all things and live the mission of Christ to proclaim the good news.
Fr Eugene Lobo SJ