"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

3rd SUNDAY -C- January 23, 2022

Nehemiah 8: 2-4a, 5-6, 8-10; Ps. 19;
1 Cor. 12: 12-30; Luke 1: 1-4, 4: 14-21

By: Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

Nehemiah tells us that the people gathered to hear Ezra read the Law. Nehemiah, the governor of Judah, and the Levites were there with all the people to listen. He describes the reading with great detail, highlighting its solemnity and the people’s attentive and emotional response. The event has echoes of our own Liturgy of the Word at the Eucharist – a gathered assembly listening to a formal reading of God’s Word. But there is high solemnity at this event. What’s more, upon hearing the reading the people respond with a double "Amen, Amen" and prostrate themselves. There’s more going on here than a regular liturgical celebration with scripture readings. What’s happening?

The people have gathered to hear the reading of the Law, the Torah, which contained the teachings about how the Israelites were to live, what morals guided their thoughts, words and actions. In other words, the Torah communicated God’s will to them, how God was blessing them and how they were to respond to that blessing in their lives. What would it be like to live as people conscious of being blessed by God? Which we are.

The nation had been scattered and enslaved. Now Nehemiah and Ezra were drawing them together to rebuild them as a faithful community by observing God’s will, revealed to them in the Torah. They saw restoration and life in obeying God’s laws. No wonder they were in tears as they heard the Word of God proclaimed to them. They had been scattered and no-people. Now, they are a united people with God speaking and acting on their behalf. We could add our own "Amen, Amen," in unison with them as we acknowledge what God has done for us in Jesus. We commit ourselves to living out our "Amen" by living in accordance with what God is telling us through the Good News we hear proclaimed each time we come together to listen and worship.

We are at the beginning of Luke’s gospel. He is like Nehemiah, giving us, he says, and accurate and "orderly sequence" of the good news of Jesus Christ who, after publically reading from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, announces to his attentive listeners, "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing." He doesn’t just mean a physical hearing does he? Rather, it is a faithful and trusting reception of what we hear and then putting it into practice. Like the Israelites we want to live our own "Amen" to God’s Word. We can, with the help of the Spirit Jesus gives us. When we fail, that same Spirit will assure us of the forgiveness Christ continually offers us.

Jesus is in Nazareth, his hometown. He has been teaching there and Luke tells us he "was praised by all." In their synagogue he draws on verses from Isaiah for his inaugural speech to describe the works that will characterize his subsequent ministry. He will open the eyes of the blind, not just the physically afflicted, but he will give the wisdom of God to the unenlightened. Luke’s gospel and his subsequent volume, the Acts, will show how people rejected the sight, the "glad tidings," Jesus was offering.

The Spirit will also empower Jesus to free people from the bondage imposed by sin and he will give meaning to people’s lives. At this point the reaction to Jesus is positive, but that will change soon enough. In fact, those in the synagogue will question, "Where did he get all this? Is this not Joseph’s son" (4:22). A few moments later they will try to kill him for stepping out of line and challenging their narrow religious attitudes (4:28-30).

Jesus was announcing a "year of favor" to those before him. In the Torah (Lv. 28:8-55) every 50th year there was to be a jubilee, a graced time, when debts were dissolved, slaves set free and property returned to its rightful owners. The jubilee year came to be seen as a symbol of the Messiah’s anticipated arrival to declare the reign of God. Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s promise to send an anointed one empowered with God’s very Spirit.

What Jesus began was to be continued by us, his Spirit-anointed community, the church. We are to carry on the mission he inaugurated that day in the synagogue. If we take to heart the word we have heard, then we must put flesh on those words our own words and actions: giving sight to the blind and ignorant; freeing those oppressed in any way and relieving the burden of those indebted to us.

There is an opportunity for celebration in today’s readings. Can we hear what they are announcing to us? God is blessing us. Hearing that, we respond by giving thanks at this Eucharist, determined to share that blessing with our neighbor. How shall we do that?

Soon Jesus will call his first disciples (5:1ff) to help him in his mission to "catch people." That task has also been entrusted to us who have received the same Spirit Jesus had. First, our own sins are forgiven and we are set free. Then, in response to what has been done for us, we set out to proclaim jubilee by our own lives – setting captives free by forgiveness and raising up the lowly. We don’t know whether Jubilee was actually practiced by the ancients; but through Christ and the Jubilee he has proclaimed over us, we are a Jubilee people. It is our manner of living. Now, ours is his work of justice, proclaiming by word and action "glad tidings to the poor." Which means we will respond whenever we meet a person being degraded, held down, cast out, or dehumanized in any way. Look around to see with the eyes the Spirit has given us; listen with ears anointed by that Spirit; see and hear the urgent needs of people and, empowered by the Spirit, do something.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/012322.cfm