Scripture Readings: Nehemiah 8:2-6, 8-10; First Corinthians 12:12-30; Gospel According to Saint Luke: 1:1-4, 4:14-21
In the course of the Liturgical Year we are given in the liturgy (the Holy Eucharist and the Divine Office) many occasions to discover or be reminded about the truths contained in Sacred Scripture, the divinely inspired Word of God. On the Third Sunday of what we call “Ordinary Time,” toward the beginning of a new civil year, we are given again one of the fundamental truths of our Christian faith, namely, that Jesus Christ is the definitive Good News of God to all the nations of the earth.
If we ponder carefully the Gospel account this Sunday, we will discover the way to salvation, by recognizing in Jesus the fulfillment of the words of the Prophets of old, who longed for a redeemer. We Christians believe that redemption has come once and for all in the person Jesus Christ, True God and True Man.
At the beginning of the Gospel passage, Saint Luke speaks of the “reliability of the instructions” being handed down to us. We then hear recounted the proclamation of Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me; therefore, he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and release to prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord.”
This is a quotation from the Prophet Isaiah, chapter 61, perfectly fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, who goes on to say: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Perhaps this is the shortest but most important sermon ever preached!
The Gospel, literally, “the Good News,” which Isaiah announced and Jesus fulfilled, is meant for all, especially the poor, which in its most fundamental sense means all those who know their need for God, who are called by Jesus the “poor in spirit.” The self-sufficient, proud or arrogant, on the other hand, have little or no room for the saving Word of God.
When Isaiah spoke, centuries before Christ, to those who knew oppression, slavery and exile, words of freedom for body and soul were music to the ears. Jesus now proclaims to his hearers freedom and hope, and even more, offering to all life on high in the Kingdom of God that will never end. There could be no better gift bestowed on the human race.
Jesus also speaks in the Nazareth synagogue of a year of favor from the Lord. The “year” of which Jesus speaks must be understood as extending throughout the ages, not just over a single year, but certainly being offered here and now at this time and place, where we are given the possibility of meeting the living God by handing our entire lives over to the God who loves us.
This is something much more encompassing than a single year of favor or grace. Rather, “year of favor” of the Lord is ever current and a daily possibility, if we will avail ourselves to the divine guest in our midst, the living God.
Christ has made known the message of salvation to the nations and has instructed us in the divine doctrine of love and salvation, giving us an example and inviting us to follow in his ways. So often, though, we fall short of the mark. We fail to take action for the building up of the Kingdom of peace, and neglecting the commands of God, especially those of forgiveness and reconciliation, so crucial to the following of Christ.
We still need to hear the voice of the prophet Isaiah, announced by Jesus Christ, that freedom and unity are brought to our world in the person of Jesus Christ, to all those of good will. We are ever encouraged to strive for a world where justice and love may flourish. That means committing our life to the message of Christ, always and everywhere. We must never give up doing good, following the example of our Lord, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, which no one can ever take away.
Saint Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians, the second reading for this Sunday, emphasizes that all Christians are members of Christ, and that Christ is the body of which we are the members. Together we form one body, with Christ as the head. We need each other for the good of the entire body. There are a great variety of functions, but mutual collaboration is required for the good of the entire Christian community. God has made a wonderful combination of the various members of the Church. The variety and richness manifest the great action of God to further the Kingdom, to which we are called.
May our listening to God’s Word encourage us along the path of doing right and proclaiming the Gospel by the lives we live, today and each day, under the watchful and loving care of Jesus Christ our Redeemer, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, forever and ever.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB