Homily for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Jan. 24)

Homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C  (Jan. 24)

After a number of weeks of using the Gospel of Luke that is highlighted this year, today we actually begin at the beginning. The gospel today is the first chapter of Luke’s gospel and includes Luke’s justification for writing his version. He is aware that there are already other Gospels. He might well have know of Matthew and Mark’s versions, but Luke was a Gentile, brought up in Greek ways of doing things, and he felt that his Gospel should reflect the kind of order, historical accuracy, and proofs of its veracity. The book is addressed to Theophilus, and we don’t know whether Theophilus is a real Greek person who had been instructed in the faith, but had questions about the faith, or whether it is a term for many in Luke’s community because the word itself means “lover of God.” A third possibility I have heard given is that Theophilus is the lawyer that was defending Luke during his trial in Rome and he was giving him the background about Jesus that he had asked for.

In any case, as interesting as all the speculation is about who Theophilus was, we also get the modus operandi of Luke spelled out for us here. Luke wasn’t his account to be orderly, starting with the beginning and following the story through to its aftermath which would be the Acts of the Apostles. Many feel that these two books were written originally as one. He also says that what he is going to relate has been passed down by real eye-witnesses. These are the stories they told and that they remembered. He calls them “servants of the word” because they were entrusted to pass things down as they observed them and heard them.

Lastly, Luke says that he wanted everyone to know the truth about Jesus of Nazareth and so his orderly account would attempt to tell the truth and give proof of it.

After this short introduction, we then jump in our reading today to the fourth chapter. Having just been through our Christmas season, we read most of the first three chapters concerning the births of John the Baptist and Jesus, and Jesus baptism by John and his temptations in the desert.  The story picks up now at this point.

We saw how the Spirit came on Jesus at his baptism, and now Jesus begins his public life. It was traditional for rabbis to begin their ministries at the age of 30, just as in the Catholic church, most priests were not ordained until they were 30 or 31, following many years of study. So, as Jesus began to preach, he must have had a charisma about him because we are told that word began to spread about Galilee where he was preaching. We learn that he began by going to local synagogues which in Jesus time were places of study of Scripture where there would be informal praying, Scripture reading, and commentary. Luke wants everyone to know that Jesus was a good Jew, who held the Sabbath sacred, read the Scriptures and actively participated in his faith by reading and commenting on Scriptures.

Because he was preaching throughout Galilee the time came for Jesus to return to his hometown of Nazareth where he went to the synagogue in that town and read a piece of Scripture. Luke changes the order of Matthew and Mark here who place this story much later in Jesus career. The reason that Luke places this story of Jesus teaching in the Nazareth synagogue here is because it gives the answer to who Jesus is, what his ministry will be about and what response he will get.

The scroll handed him was from Isaiah the prophet. What this passage does is give Jesus what businesses would call their mission statement. What Jesus reads from Isaiah is what we call a servant song which describes the role of a messiah. He is to usher in a new age beginning as Jesus says, “Today”. All of the longings of the poor, the oppressed and the imprisoned will be satisfied and there will be liberty and a jubilee established. The jubilee for Jews came every seven years and was a time when debts were forgiven. Our reading ends today without a reaction from the crowd. All we hear is Jesus statement that “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke lets everyone know this early in his account, exactly who Jesus is – the Messiah, and what he will be doing and bringing about.

The first reading today is about the priest Ezra, who with the governor Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile. Ezra wanted to stress the importance of Scripture to the Hebrew people again.  He gathered them all in what might have been the first synagogue and the priests read and commented on the Law, the first five books of Scripture, explaining it so that all understood it. When they heard the reading of the five books and understood their covenant with God and what God had done for them, the people wept. But Ezra told them not to weep, but to celebrate this knowledge and to share their celebrations with those who had nothing.

The relationship between these two readings is simply that both Ezra and Jesus were trying to explain to the people that the Law and the Prophets were something beautiful and that they should celebrate the fact that God was with them and loved them. The banquet that Ezra sent them to and the jubilee that Christ announced were the rewards for the faithfulness to God.

The second reading today could be a whole homily in itself, but I just want to comment briefly on it. It has no relationship to the other readings today, but is a continuation of the idea of the mystical body of Christ in which all the parts work together as one, and if one part is hurt, the other parts feel it. It is this unity of all us in the Spirit, just as Jesus reads about in Isaiah: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” It is the Spirit that unites, that makes us all one, that allows us to have separate gifts and talents that work to the good of everyone, and that allow us to see everyone as equal in the eyes of God.

This week we need to remind ourselves of this Spirit in all of us that unites us, find ways we can reach out to others, for their pain should be our pain as well. It is only in sharing the pain, helping the hurt, that we can realize that love of neighbor is simply an extension of loving ourselves. May God give us this vision and help us, too, to fulfill the Scripture, having Jesus’ mission and way as our mission and way as well.

And this is the Good News I offer you this 3rd Sunday. May God bless you.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

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