Sunday, January 24, 2016

Jesus in the Synagogue

                                    3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's first reading from the Book of Nehemiah gives us a glimpse of an ancient Jewish religious practice. The whole assembly of the people of God come together on one of the high holy days to hear the word of God.  The scribe stands on a high platform similar to our pulpit, opens a scroll since books were not yet invented, and commences to read "plainly from the book of the law of God." The purpose of the reading which lasts from daybreak to midday is to remind them of the law, their inheritance.

This first reading today obviously ties in with the Gospel reading from St. Luke. Every three years when we come to Cycle C in the readings we will find that most of the gospel readings come from St. Luke. Although not one of the original apostles, Luke was a disciple of St. Paul. Shortly before his death Paul wrote to Timothy, "Make haste to come to me; for Demas has deserted me, loving this world...Luke only is with me." Luke also wrote the Acts of the Apostles which is mainly an account of St. Paul's missionary journeys.

Christian artists have usually used four symbols to depict the four Evangelists. St. John is depicted as an Eagle since theologians regarded him as reaching closer to the heavens because his gospel seems to be the most mystical. St. Matthew is portrayed as a winged Man because his gospel begins with the human genealogy of Christ. St. Mark is portrayed as a winged Lion because his gospel begins with John the Baptist, a voice crying out or roaring in the desert. Luke is portrayed as a winged Ox because theologians believed that his gospel emphasized the sacrificial nature of Christ's mission.

At the outset of his gospel Luke states his credentials. His information comes from "eyewitnesses from the beginning," and from "ministers of the word" who have handed the teaching down. After "investigating everything accurately anew" he proposes to write down his own narrative "in an orderly sequence"

            so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings
            you have received.

After this brief introduction today's reading jumps to chapter 4 in Luke's gospel. We skip over the story of our Lord's infancy (which we heard at Christmas), and the Temptation in the Desert which the Church saves until the first Sunday in Lent. In chapter 4  we find Jesus at the outset of his public life. He has returned to Galilee "in the power of the Spirit" and the whole region is aware of Him. "He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all."

Then one day on the Sabbath he went into the synagogue at Nazareth (according to his custom) and like Ezra in the first reading He stood up to read. He was handed a scroll and we can picture Him unrolling it until he came to the specific passage from Isaiah that He wanted to read, a passage that outlines His sacrificial mission:

            The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
            because he has anointed me
            to bring glad tidings to the poor.
            He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
            and recovery of sight to the blind,
            to let the oppressed go free,
            and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.

This mission is His but as members of His Mystical Body it is also ours. St. Paul reminds us in today's reading from Corinthians that we, whatever our rank or station, are all parts of the Body of Christ.

            For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,
            whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons,
            and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.

Not only do we all have our individual roles to play, we also have to be concerned for one another.

            If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it;
            if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.

This is one of the reasons why it is so important for us to come together here just as the Israelites did in the time of Nehemiah. Every hour of every day a Mass is being celebrated somewhere in the world by people of every race and culture. No society on Earth is as diverse as our Church. Male, female, young, old, families, celibate monks and nuns, all are welcome. All it takes for membership is Baptism.

It is so important for us to see each other here. For our young people what better example can they see than an elderly couple walking out of Church still holding hands after years of love and devotion to each other? It is equally important for our elderly to see young people here who can carry on the tradition and work of the Church. All of us are the sons and daughters of immigrants. What more inspiring sight can we have to see our brothers and sisters from Africa, Latin America, and Asia joining us every Sunday in one Spirit?

So what if we are not all apostles, teachers, or prophets. We all have our work to do. We all have our role to play in the Body of Christ. We just can't stay home and try to do it on our own. We need each other.

Reading 1. Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10
Reading II. I Corinthians 12: 12-30
Gospel. Luke 1:1-4; 4: 14-21  (In the synagogue)


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