Sunday 27th January 2013

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C Lectio divina on Lk 1,1-4; 4,14-21

This Gospel reading is not a single continuous text. It is made up of two parts that are very different from each other, and the second part is, in fact, an incomplete account. This makes it difficult for the believer to understand and assimilate the reading. In the first part, Luke introduces himself and his work, and reveals his intentions. He is writing to show the truth of the early Christian catechesis. He is well informed and wants to do the task better than his predecessors. In the second part, he introduces Jesus and his personal mission. Jesus makes himself known to his fellow citizens. He is not the one they know, but the one they have been waiting for – a man of the Spirit sent by God, the one who frees the oppressed and proclaims salvation. Even in our day, the Scripture is fulfilled for those who accept Jesus as he presents himself, as he wants to be for us. Rather than trying to imagine what he might be like, we should allow him to be as God has given him to us. It is good to allow ourselves to be surprised.

1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, 2 just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed.

At that time: 4,14 Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee, and a report concerning him went out through all the surrounding country. 15 And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. 16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as was his custom, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read; 17 and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written, 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” 20 And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

I. Read: understand what the text says, focussing on how it says it.

Our text, even if it is put together arbitrarily, has a clear function as an introduction. The first paragraph is a kind of foreword to the gospel, intended to introduce the book. The episode that follows introduces the main character of the book. As we have it in the liturgical version, it confirms the veracity of the author’s testimony. It draws attention to what he is going to report and serves as an official presentation of his book to society. Following the style of historians of his time, Luke tells his readers the content of the book and his purpose in writing it, and at the same time, affirms the validity of his account. What his is going to report, is shown to be true and is worthy of acceptance. Theophilus, the reader to whom the book is dedicated, can rest assured that the account is worthy of belief.

Luke begins his account of the public ministry of Jesus in Nazareth. This was a deliberate choice on his part. It involved changing the order found in his source, Chapter 6,1-6 of Mark’s gospel. Jesus was already well known in the surrounding area. Now he introduces himself and his programme to his fellow citizens, during a religious service on the Sabbath. Taking part in the worship, as was his custom, he reads the Scripture and explains it. So far, everything is normal. What is really extraordinary is the comment he makes. All eyes are fixed on him as he says, ”today this has been fulfilled.” In the presence of all his acquaintances, among whom he had grown up (Lk 2,39 -40), he dares to say that he is the fulfilment of the Scripture he has just read. Their own townsman says that he is the anointed one. A man educated in Nazareth claims to be the Messiah that was foretold. This is how, in Luke’s gospel, Jesus reveals his awareness of his identity as the Messiah, a man of the Spirit; and of the mission assigned to him – to free the oppressed.

The quotation from Isaiah is complete but the comment from Jesus is very brief and somewhat surprising. His presence at Nazareth fulfils his mission as prophet. He is God’s messenger and God’s anointed, sent to bring good news to the poor, to set prisoners free, to heal the sick and proclaim God’s grace. By applying the prophecy to himself, Jesus not only reflects his personal conviction that he is sent by God, but also describes in detail the mission for which he has been chosen. He displays an audacity unheard of – clear proof that he knows that he has received the Spirit and been entrusted with a specific mission. The incredulity of the people among whom he had grown up, even though it is not mentioned here, is very understandable. Jesus inaugurates his mission by making it known to his neighbours, the people who know him best. Wherever he is present, divine salvation is accomplished “today”.

 

II. Meditation: apply what the text says to life

When he had asserted with a certain solemnity the veracity of the story he was about to tell, Luke introduced the person of Jesus, at the beginning of his public ministry, in his home village, among friends who had known him since childhood. As on many other occasions, Jesus was participating in the weekly assembly, where the Scriptures were read. This time he was the one to explain the reading to his fellow citizens. Their neighbour became their teacher. It was only natural that Jesus should choose Nazareth to announce the kingdom for the first time. He wanted to reveal himself to his fellow townspeople as the one who had received the Spirit of God, was sent to proclaim the Gospel and the Lord’s year of grace, to bring freedom to the oppressed, sight for the blind and the liberation of slaves

It is surprising then that those who knew Jesus best refused to accept him. His fellow citizens did not believe him. They found it impossible to believe that someone who had been their neighbour, whom they had known for a long time, could be the one sent by God. It would be a real pity if we today were to respond to the gift of Jesus with the same indifference and disbelief.

Like them, we run the risk of thinking that we have known Christ for a long time, that we know all about him, and we are not ready to recognise him as the one sent by God, bringing us a new spirit and good news. It could well happen to us, the Christians of today, that we are so familiar with Christ that we do not expect anything more of him than what we already know.

Is it not true that his Gospel, which we think we know well, has become a collection of words that no longer inspire and attract, and so it fails to attract our interest? And if it does interest us, what can we discover new about Jesus? Like his own townspeople, we have to make a real effort to understand that what he is saying to us is new and transformative, capable of restoring joy and hope to our lives.

To attain this, we need to overcome the initial surprise of seeing that it is good news, proclaiming a future free from injustice, healed from sickness and capable of overcoming oppression. This is only an example, but if the kingdom of God is to be established in the concrete history of humankind, how can we look on in silence when people today have their rights trampled upon?

Jesus evangelized his townspeople by proclaiming liberty and consolation. What he promised was so good that they could not believe him. He was so well know that they could not accept his stupendous promises. Certainly they needed healing, peace, compassion and consolation, as we do today. It would be enough for us if Jesus were to find in our hearts what was lacking in his own people, namely faith and acceptance. We have no shortage of problems. Why then have we so little faith in the one who comes to heal us?

It is not enough to believe that Jesus wants to heal us. We need to lend him our voice and give our very lives so that his desire to save reaches all people, beginning, as he did, with the people nearest to us.

Whatever our situation, our words and our actions should proclaim freedom and the promise of salvation, as the words and actions of Jesus did at Nazareth. Sadly, our Christian life today does not proclaim new life and is not good news. We no longer reach out to others, beginning with our own families and friends, as bearers of God’s Spirit and of his promises, because we do not live, as Jesus did, aware that we possess his Spirit and committed to his gospel.

Who will bring the voice of Christ to our people, if we remain silent? How will they know that they are loved by God, if we do not tell them? When will we begin to approach them as people sent by God who wants them to be well and to be free, as Christ did at Nazareth?

The world still needs the gospel, and Christians should be “new Christs” – good news for the world, a reason for hope among men and women. That is what Christ was for his people at Nazareth. Why can we not try to be the same? Is it that we are not really Christians?

It is a bit embarrassing for us to have to admit that most of the great social, technical and political achievements in today’s world, are happening without the involvement of Christians, maybe even in spite of Christians. It saddens us to see the divisions and disunity that exist among us. How can we face the world confidently as bearers of new hope, if we ourselves seem to have lost hope and become disenchanted, living in delusion? We have to make the gospel good news that renews us, and fills us with enthusiasm, making us capable of promoting unity, overcoming injustice, fighting against evil and giving the world reasons for hope.

If we want to be Christians today we should begin by reaching out to our own people, to our families and friends and to all the people we know, as Christ did at Nazareth. We should be among them as bearers of hope, bringing healing for all their ills, and as workers for the kingdom.

If we remind them of God’s promises, they will more easily remember God and they will see their personal salvation close at hand. We will be good news for our families, friends and neighbours, as Christ was at Nazareth. The times may not be as good as we would like, but they are still the best time to prove to Christ and to the world that we want to be good Christians, effective preachers of his message and his lieutenants on earth. Let us take up his message, by our words and in our lives – we are Christian enough to present ourselves to people as “other Christs”. In this way, Christ will become life for us, and we will become his witnesses as he wants us to be. He still has trust in us, and he still needs us to make him present in the world. If we can make his programme our own, the world will be set free from evil and we will live in his Spirit.