3rd Ordinary Sunday (Year C)
First Reading:Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10 Second Reading:1Corinthians 12:12-30 Gospel Reading:Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21
“YOUR WORDS, LORD, ARE SPIRIT AND LIFE.”
Today, we have gathered here in the Church around this altar as God's family to worship God as our Father and to listen to His life-giving words. We have already entered into the Ordinary Time of the Liturgical Year C and today is its third Sunday. During the Ordinary Sundays of this year, mostly it is St. Luke’s story about Christ that we will be reading, and we start doing it today.
Now, today’s Gospel Reading is a composite of passages taken from St. Luke's Gospel and it has two distinct parts:
- It begins with the opening preface (1:1-4) - St. Luke telling us why he wrote the Gospel. It is addressed to a friend of his - called Theophilus, probably a Roman official, whose name means ‘beloved of God,’ to explain to him what Christianity was really all about. Luke implies that Theophilus has already been instructed orally in the message of Jesus, but he will now present him with an accurate and orderly account of Jesus’ life and teaching, after investigating everything anew. Luke clearly acknowledges that he himself never saw Jesus. His gospel was written at least 50 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. So far, the life and teachings of Jesus had been passed down by word of mouth. Luke is moved by the Holy Spirit to write out the events of Jesus’ life, based on the experiences of people who did know Jesus personally, so that the ever-growing community of believers may have greater certainty about them as they share the good news with new members.
- The second part of today’s Gospel 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 (4:14-21). In between are the stories 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 our 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.
According to St. Luke, Jesus begins his public ministry in a synagogue. Jesus takes a turn presiding at the synagogue gathering on the Sabbath in his hometown of Nazareth. So, what is special about that? Actually, it is not his presiding that is noteworthy, but his chosen message, the way he applies it, and its implications. Jesus reads aloud a passage from the Scripture – in particular from the book of the Prophet Isaiah about 'the Servant of the Lord.' In this incident, found only in Luke's Gospel, Jesus actually makes a solemn declaration of his mission in the world. We can call it the Manifesto of Jesus. People who initiate a revolution usually start off with a declaration of their manifesto. Jesus has come to start a revolution of mercy and love in the world. And here, in his reading from Isaiah, he publishes the Christian manifesto:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” (Is 61:1-2)
So, it is in front of the hometown crowd that Jesus reveals his mission and ministry - preaching, liberation and healing. He also announces that he is the fulfillment of the prophecy that he read from the Scripture- “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” It means that he is 'the Anointed One' sent by God and his presence is their guarantee that the time of salvation has begun. Jesus thus sets about to give hope to those who have lost hope, a purpose in life to those who find little or no purpose. For, in Jesus, all who have waited will experience the loving-kindness, the mercy and the compassion of God. All eyes are glued on him as he puts down the scroll and takes his seat. “Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.”
In the First Reading of today, we hear from the Book of Nehemiah. At the end of the 6th century B.C. under the leadership of Nehemiah (the governor of Judah) and Ezra (the scribe-priest) the people of Israel were allowed by Emperor Cyrus of Persia to return home from their captivity in Babylon. They were embittered and despondent when they realized that Jerusalem had been ransacked and the walls had been broken down, the temple was in rubble and the city in ruins.
This malaise also affected their faith. Surely, they had forgotten the story of their ancestors, the story that made them the chosen people of God. After all, God had seemingly abandoned them. Something had to be done to revive the religion. Ezra, the priest at the site of the former Temple, decided to hold a mass public Scripture Reading. He set up a podium near one of the main gates of the city. The Book of the Law was brought out and Ezra began to read it aloud. His reading went on for hours and saddened the people as they considered how much they needed to reform their lives. The words of the Scripture so moved the people that they began crying. The Word of God inspired them to revitalize their faith. Ezra and Nehemiah then renewed the covenant God had made with them centuries before and encouraged the people to celebrate their observance of the law. “Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.”
Here Ezra, the scribe-priest, prefigures Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest. Just as in the First Reading of today, we see Ezra reading aloud the Scripture to the people and interpreting it for them , in the Gospel Reading of today, we see Jesus also doing the same in the synagogue of Nazareth, his hometown. Both of these settings remind us that the reading of 'the Word of God' is central in worship. In Jesus' days, scripture was not read silently and reading Scripture occupied a central place in synagogue worship. Worship is a conversation between God and his people, and the Scriptures are the surest and clearest means through which God speaks to them. The Scriptures are God's voice. It is wise, therefore, to pay close attention to the prominent role that the reading of 'the Word of God' has in our worship and liturgical services. The Scripture is the foundation of our life, it has power and is living and always active. “Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.”
Again, the Liturgy of the Word goes back all the way to Ezra’s and Jesus' time. The people were attentive in hearing the readings being interpreted by Ezra and by Jesus. We heard from the Book of Nehemiah in the First Reading the description of what Ezra, the priest, did in the synagogue. It’s very similar to what we do at Mass. Ezra was standing at one end and standing higher up; that’s what the priest or deacon does: standing at one end and standing higher up. As Ezra opened the scroll, the people rose up; that’s what happens at the Gospel Reading during the Mass, the people stand to listen to the Gospel proclaimed. Then Ezra interpreted the reading for the people; and that’s what the priest or deacon or bishop does after the proclamation of the Gospel - he gives the homily.
Moreover, Jesus Christ himself is 'the Word of God' and those who follow him and listen to his words form one body – 'the Body of Christ.' This is what St. Paul says in the Second Reading of today in his First Letter to the Corinthians. He teaches that there is a spiritual link between all Christians. He illustrates this idea with an analogy to the human body. It is a composite of many different organs. Though each is technically independent they work together for the benefit of the whole person. The source of this unity is the soul. In the same way, the members of the Church are autonomous but they harmonize because of the Holy Spirit. They are not to create divisions among themselves by identifying as Jews or Greeks, slaves or free people, women or men, because they have all been anointed by the Holy Spirit and together have become 'the one Body of Christ.' The Holy Spirit gives different spiritual gifts to different members for the good of the entire Community. Paul describes some gifts or functions viz. administration, prophesying, teaching, healing, helping or works, and tongues, that are apparent in the worship of the Corinthian community.
To conclude – All the three Scripture Readings of today very clearly show that 'the Scripture Reading' takes the central place in our worship and speak of the prominent role the Holy Spirit plays in it. Let us then make it a point that we always take delight in listening to 'the Word of God' proclaimed whenever we participate in worship, as we do it today and allow God to lead our life. Let us always pray and say - “Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.”
Let us also make 'the Scripture Reading' the center of our daily life. We may be having the Bible in our home, but do we read it? How often? Unless we open the Bible, turn its pages and read them, how can it be of any help? It just remains an antique in our drawers, as this little story tells -
A door-to-door salesman from a publishing house asked a lady if she owned a copy of the Bible. "I certainly do!" she replied with some pride. To his next question, did she read it regularly, she responded, "Oh, yes!" and sent her little daughter to get the Bible from the table drawer. As she showed it to the man, her spectacles fell from between the pages. Without thinking, she exclaimed, "Oh, here are my glasses! I've been looking for these for 3 years!"