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God has an announcement to make on the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C. The days of exile are over. The days of waiting are done. He is here, among us, ready to do the things he promised he would do — mighty deeds he will do for us and through us.
Sunday’s Gospel reading is a supreme moment in human history, and the Church gives us a huge hint as to how we should receive it.
Jesus, the incarnate God, bursts onto the world stage in a number of dramatic entrances. There is the pregnancy announcement by Gabriel. There is the birthday celebration by angels, shepherds and magi. There is the Presentation in the Temple with Simeon’s dramatic recognition and the Baptism in the Jordan with John’s. There is the Wedding Feast at Cana, where his first miracle helps his disciples believe.
Then there is this, his historic reading of Scripture in his hometown synagogue. Finally, instead of others announcing Jesus’s coming or recognizing his special identity, he is saying it clearly himself.
He reads a passage his audience well knew, describing the Messiah, and gives the ultimate mic-drop line: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
How should they have responded? The first reading, from the book of Nehemiah, tells us.
It’s the story of Jewish people returned from exile, hearing their Law and their language once again. And it enthralls them. “Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly, which consisted of men, women, and those children old enough to understand,” it says. “He read out of the book from daybreak to midday.”
They listened throughout the morning, then said “Amen, amen!” and prostrated themselves, overjoyed and overawed. Their law had been lost, and now it was found — and without it, they had been lost, and now were found. They had been captives, blind, oppressed. Now they were home, filled with light from the words God spoke just for them.
This is how the people of Nazareth should have responded as they met their Lord, too. They, too are under the thumb of a foreign regime, longing for the Messiah who in Sunday’s Gospel appears before them. But they didn’t respond that way. Next week we will see how they did respond.
But here’s the thing — after the pandemic, after our own sins, after experiencing a world that rejects Christ, we should respond the way the exiles did, too.
Ezra in the first reading held the scroll up for all to see. to show its authenticity. Today’s Gospel starts with a similar pronouncement of authenticity. Before telling the story of Jesus in the synagogue, the Gospel reading reaches back to the very introduction of Luke’s Gospel.
There we learn that Luke has carefully assembled information in order to demonstrate the truth of Jesus’s story to Theophilus — who is perhaps a patron, but who functions as a stand-in for each of us. He is doing for us what Jesus does for his audience: Witnessing to the incredible truth of the incarnation.
Then, once the story’s bona fides are established, Jesus speaks. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor,” he says. “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.”
Jesus is telling a synagogue full of people 2,000 years ago that this is really true; St. Luke is telling every church full of people this weekend that this is really true.
When we hear it, are we more like Ezra’s listeners or Jesus’s?
Are we eager to hear the words of God like people who have been starved of the truth about our very identity, desperate to return home?
We should be. After all, we are “the poor,” at least spiritually. We Americans have record high levels of anxiety and depression as we restlessly try to fill our souls with food that does not sustain: entertainment, material goods, pleasure, and worldly success.
We are also “captives” who need to be set free — captured by addictions of all kinds, to substances, consumerism, and lifestyles. We are also “the blind,” who can’t see the truth, because we have trained our minds to think according to secular modes of discourse.
And we are oppressed, much like the Jews in exile or in the Roman empire, because we live in a culture that demands conformity to secularism, immorality, and untruth and forbids or punishes the practice of our faith when it comes to the right to life, the sanctity of marriage, and the creation of human beings as male and female.
Jesus is here to fill our poverty, release our captivity, and end our oppression.
But Jesus’s message is not just for us to receive. It is a message he relies on us to share.
In the Second Reading, Paul shares a lesson he learned the hard way: “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,” he says.
Paul understood that we are “one body in Christ” from personal experience. He was converted when he was on the road to Damascus to persecute Christians and had a vision of Jesus appeared and asked him, “Why do you persecute me?”
Paul’s theology was formed by that experience. It taught him to see Baptism as dying and rising with Christ, being adopted by the Father, and being incorporated into Christ through the Holy Spirit. It also informed his understanding of the Eucharist
One chapter before today’s reading, Paul describes the Institution of the Eucharist and says that Christ’s offering of his body and blood in the sacrament continues to this day. “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord,” he says, and “anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.”
His logic: If those who attack Christians are attacking Christ, then those Christians who receive the Eucharist and don’t act on it are profaning Christ.
How to act on our Eucharistic faith?
St. Paul sets out the template: Jesus in the Eucharist is a body without body parts. That means he needs us to be Christ’s hands, his eyes, and his ears. He needs us to do the things Jesus did, each as parts of his new body, the Church.
That start with being his voice, proclaiming that Jesus Christ is the Messiah.
“Some people God has designated in the church to be, first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers; then, mighty deeds; then gifts of healing, assistance, administration, and varieties of tongues,” he says. We all have our job.
If we do our job, however humble, we will do our part to continue Christ’s life on earth. If we don’t, we will leave the body of Christ captive in the tabernacle, without arms and legs and a voice, unable to reach the world.