23 January 2022 at Saint William & Saint Peter Catholic Churches in Naples, FL
Nehemiah 8, 2-4, 5-6, 8-10 + Psalm 19 + 1 Corinthians 12, 12-30 + Luke 1, 1-4, 4, 14-21
If you look at this gospel in the Bible or a Missal, you may notice that what was just proclaimed is actually two parts of Luke’s Gospel put together. What the Church gives us today is two introductions; first to the Gospel as a whole from the first chapter and then to Jesus of Nazareth in the fourth chapter. What was skipped in between was the whole Lukan story of the birth of Christ which we heard in December.
Now, the hometown boy comes to the Synagogue as he had all his life. The leader of the Synagogue could pick any adult Jewish man to read the scripture of the day and comment on it personally. Sometimes visitors would be chosen just to have a fresh “take” on things, so it is not surprising that the leader invites Jesus to read from the assigned book for the day. He’s been away for a while. The reader could choose the passage. This young man has become a Rabbi, and all eyes are fixed on him. He grew up. He’s been listening to John the Baptist, and he has spent some trying time in the desert. Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit prompted him to return home to Galilee which is up in the northern part of Palestine with a very temperate climate where many things grow easily because there is plenty of water. Life is sort of laid-back. Nazareth, tucked into the side of some fairly rocky hills might have had about 2000 people, and for the region was somewhat cosmopolitan because three important roads: to the sea, to Damascus, and to Jerusalem passed nearby.
Jesus does what we just did, he takes two separate sections of the Prophet Isaiah and puts them together and reads, then he sits down which is what Rabbis does to talk. His homily began with a simple declaration that this prophesy was being fulfilled in the present. He told them he had arrived as a special one to bring good news to the poor. In his mind he intended to say something revolutionary about a whole new order. The people did not understand. They thought he was saying that they would become masters of their own land again and the Romans would be out. When he spoke of the oppressed going free, they thought it was them who would be set free. They had it wrong. They put themselves on the wrong side of the prophecy.
What was proclaimed that day in Nazareth is still proclaimed in this house of prayer, a mission, a plan, a prophecy about what must be for the Lord’s favor to be known. They thought it was about them, but it was really for them. When Jesus lays out his plan, his vision of what is the Will of the Father, it’s not just for him. It is for us all. We are the ones who proclaim liberty to captives. We are the one who give sight to the blind who cannot see the goodness of God. We are the ones who give freedom to the oppressed, and we are the ones who proclaim what is acceptable to the Lord. Saint Paul got the point, and we heard what he had to say about it to the Corinthians. With all of our diverse gifts, there is nothing we cannot accomplish.
Today is an important word in Luke’s Gospel. Luke’s theology of “today” shows us a way of bridging the deep ditch of history and experiencing the event of Jesus today. As Isaiah informed Jesus about his mission, Jesus, like the prophet of old, informs us of our mission. Jesus concludes by saying that the prophesy is fulfilled in their hearing. It may have been so at that time with Jesus, but what about now with us and with our church? Luke says that the people in that synagogue had their eyes fixed on Jesus. The fact is, the poor remain in our streets, our prisons are overcrowded, and more than half this world is sick with no hope for medications or cures. Their eyes are fixed on us.
We live in a time that witnesses many terrible attacks on human life. Warfare and genocide have accounted for the deaths of millions of human beings. Abortion attacks 4,000 human lives every day; eliminating an unborn infant only because it is alive. Who, after all, deserve to be born? It has all led to a coarsening of our entire culture’s respect for life: the increasing acceptance of assisted suicide for the elderly and ill; experiment on living embryos, abuse of women, children and the old, irresponsible sexual license; the weakening of families; and the further victimization of the poor to whom society is willing to give abortion rights in place of real justice.
Today ought to be the day when we use another word that Luke uses several times in his Gospel: “enough.” Today we ought to be able to celebrate the favor of God upon us and in joyful gratitude, and take up the mission to which Jesus Christ has led us. Grateful hearts are contagious hearts. The gratitude that draws us into the house of God, this house of prayer, must make us wonder how we can lift up those who are oppressed and how we can gather them in to the bounty of God’s love. I would like to imagine that when we do, their eyes will be fixed on us with joy and with hope, for they will have been touched, healed, and set free by Jesus Christ who lives today in all of us.