3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 24 January 2016

"You may be the only Gospel some people will ever read"

Scripture Reading – Luke 1:1-4,4:14-21

Seeing that many others have undertaken to draw up accounts of the events that have taken place among us, exactly as these were handed down to us by those who from the outset were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, I in my turn, after carefully going over the whole story from the beginning, have decided to write an ordered account for you, Theophilus, so that your Excellency may learn how well founded the teaching is that you have received.

Jesus, with the power of the Spirit in him, returned to Galilee; and his reputation spread throughout the countryside. He taught in their synagogues and everyone praised him.

He came to Nazara, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day as he usually did. He stood up to read and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written:
The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,
for he has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to captives
and to the blind new sight,
to set the downtrodden free,
to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.

He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down. And all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to speak to them, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.’

Gospel reading – Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com

REFLECTION

“You may be the only Gospel some people will ever read”

by Rosemary O’Connor & Patrick Sullivan

In this Sunday’s second reading St Paul writes about how we are all baptised by the one Spirt into one body.  He goes on to say that the body does not consist of one member but of many.  He conveys the message that through our baptism we are all part of the body of Christ.  We are all called by name – we each have a role to play in the body of Christ, each of our roles is important; no one role, big or small, is more important than another.

The question for each of us to reflect on is how do we play our role? How do we fulfil God’s mission here on earth?  Donal Harrington, the Irish Theologian, uses the expression of ‘activating’ our baptism.  We are generally baptised as babies; as we mature we are able to make choices and decisions for ourselves.  When we activate our baptism, our faith becomes real and not just words; we are filled with the Spirit and see with Jesus’ eyes.  St Teresa puts this beautifully in her prayer; “Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good.”

When we think of our baptismal calling in this way, we can get a sense that our role in the body of Christ is played out in our everyday lives; around the family table, with our colleagues, our friends and the people we encounter on a daily basis.  It is very often the little things that stand out during our daily encounters; perhaps someone smiled at us, perhaps we experienced a kind word that changed the complexion of our day.  Patrick Kavanagh captures this in his poem ‘The Great Hunger’; God is in the bits and pieces of Everyday.  A kiss here and a laugh again, and sometimes tears.  A pearl necklace around the neck of poverty”.

There is a lovely expression based on words from St Francis of Assisi; “you may be the only Gospel that some people will ever read”.   God reaches us through each other.  There is so much ministering that takes place every day in families and relationships but we don’t always appreciate it in this way.

I invite you to reflect for a few moments on the adapted words of this poem by an unknown author:

I saw Jesus last week.
He was wearing blue jeans and an old shirt.
He was up at the Church
He was alone and working hard.
For just a minute he looked a little like one of our parishioners.
But it was Jesus; I could tell by his smile.

I saw Jesus yesterday.
He was at the hospital visiting a friend who was sick.
They prayed together quietly.
For just a minute he looked like our Parish Priest.
But it was Jesus; I could tell by the tears in his eyes.

I saw Jesus this morning.
He was in my kitchen making my breakfast. He then prepared a special
lunch for me to take with me.
For just a minute he looked like my Mam.
But it was Jesus; I could feel the love from his heart.

I saw Jesus the other day.
He was at the supermarket talking to a friend.
He then put his arms around them to comfort them.
For just a minute he looked like a woman in our street.
But it was Jesus; I could see the concern for others who hurt.

I see Jesus everywhere,
taking food to the sick,
welcoming others to his home,
being friendly to a newcomer.
And for just a minute I think he’s someone I know.
But it’s always Jesus; I can tell by the way he serves.
    Author unknown

If we were to stop and reflect on our own lives; what Gospel would people read in us?  What message do we convey through our words and actions? How do our families, our friends, the strangers we encounter, experience God’s love through us?

INTRODUCTION TO LECTIO DIVINA

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.

LECTIO DIVINA

Read: understand what the text is saying, 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”.

Meditate: 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 own townspeople as the one who had received the Spirit of God, was sent to proclaim the Gospel and the Lord’s year of grace, and 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 hm. 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.

PRAYER

All-powerful, ever-living God,
direct our steps in the way of your love,
so that our whole life may be fragrant
with all we do in the name of Jesus, your beloved Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever.
Amen.

AUDIO

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Music: “Virtutes Vocis” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
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