To read the texts click on the texts: Neh 8:2-4, 5-6,8-10; 1 Cor 12:12-30; Lk 1:1-4, 4:14-21
The beginning of the Gospel of Luke is unique because Luke is the only one of the four evangelists who states the purpose of his writing. It seems, from what he states, that his intention is to supply an orderly account, a doctrinal truth, and an assurance about the meaning of the whole Christ-event, to Theophilus – for whom he is writing. Thus, his intention is not merely historical. He will also narrate the things “that have been fulfilled” so that Theophilus may know the “truth”.
A summary of the Christ-event is given in the inaugural act of Jesus when he comes to the synagogue at Nazareth and reads from the scroll of Isaiah. Jesus, in all probability, chose the passage that he would read. Even as he read from this chosen text, he made subtle changes in his reading. The chosen passage, and the changes he made, brings out what his intentions are for all those whose lives he will touch. In his reading, the Lucan Jesus omits the phrase from Isaiah “to bind up the broken hearted” and adds instead, from Isa 58:6, “He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free”. Also, he omits, from Isa 61:2, “and the day of vengeance of our God” and ends, instead, by proclaiming the “favourable year of the Lord”.
What could be the possible reasons for the choice of this reading in his inaugural discourse? Why would he make the changes he made? One important reason for the choice seems to be the mention of the Spirit. The Spirit plays an important role in the Gospel of Luke and, right at the beginning, Luke shows that Jesus’ ministry, which he will soon begin, is empowered by the Spirit by whom Jesus was anointed at his baptism. Second, the poor are given special prominence in the Gospel of Luke, and so, the Lucan Jesus begins with an option for the poor. While the rich are not excluded, it is very clearly the poor who will have preference. “Poor” in Luke primarily means the economically poor, but also includes here, captives, the blind, and the oppressed. In a word, Jesus has come primarily for the marginalized, the scum of society, and those who are on its fringes.
What has Jesus come to proclaim to these? What are the implications of his proclamation for us today? Jesus has come to proclaim a year of God’s favour. He has come to show, through his word and deeds, that the God he will reveal is a God whose intention is to liberate the impoverished and the oppressed and, in that respect, fulfil the ideal and social concern of the Jubilee year. Jesus has come to announce God’s promise of liberation for all the poor and oppressed, regardless of nationality, gender, or race. The radical inclusiveness of his message was not easy for all to accept. Many preferred to be exclusive. They wanted a Messiah who would fit in with the categories they had set. Thus, not only was the message of Jesus scandalous, he was himself a scandal. Since they closed their minds and hearts to his inclusive message of God’s unconditional love, they were unable to receive it.
The implications of the proclamation of Jesus for us today are, first; the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed, and that we must continue to proclaim, must be a kingdom that has the poor at its very centre. The rich are not excluded because the kingdom is all inclusive. Yet, there can be no doubt that the preference must always be for the poor, the marginalized, the impoverished, and those of no consequence. Even as we work for the kingdom, we must keep in mind that others, too, are called to the same task and responsibility. Thus, as Paul reminds the Corinthians, and us, we must remember always that we are one body made up of many parts. We must be able to accept, not only unity in diversity but unity, even in diversity. This means that the work being done by those of other religions, other faiths, and other orientations, as long as it results in furthering God’s kingdom, is good and to be commended. We must learn to work, not only for others, but with others, as well. God’s word is a word that cannot be restricted to any particular group or community. It is a word that is freely given to all who are willing to understand and to accept it. In the first reading of today, Ezra, the priest, exposes the word of God to the people and tells them to not be sad and to not weep. We, too, need to understand that the word is not a word that causes sorrow or brings tears. It is not a word that causes division or strife. Rather, it is a word that builds up because the Lord is, indeed, our strength and our hope.
Because this is the case, and even though we realize that, despite our very best efforts, the kingdom will always remain beyond our grasp, we keep striving, never giving up, never giving in. We keep as our model and inspiration the mission and person of Jesus who, even on the Cross, continued to say “Amen, Amen”.