Neh. 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10; Ps. 19; 1 Cor. 12:12-30; Lk. 1:1-4; 4:14-21
(Audio recorded live, 23 January 2022)
Today we heard of two paradigm-shifting events. The first, as the priest-scribe Ezra proclaims the law to the people, and the second, as Jesus proclaims a year acceptable to the Lord, which, as he says, is fulfilled in your hearing. Both of these passages mark a distinct shift in the lives of the people, especially with respect to their relationship with God. Let’s start with Ezra, and his reading of the law to the people in Jerusalem. Ezra, was a priest during the reconstruction of Jerusalem after the Israelites were set free from captivity to Babylon by the Persian King Cyrus. Upon their return to Jerusalem, they saw their once magnificent home in ruins, their Temple smashed, and the foreign emblems of their oppressors all over the city, including shrines to false idols. It was a depressing sight, but as Ezra searches the rubble he uncovers the Book of the Law, he discovers the Scriptures. The Law was central to the Israelite’s way of life—we might even say, to them, it was life itself. What does our Psalm say? “Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.” So, you can imagine the absolute joy the people had when hearing the Law proclaimed. And while rebuilding is anything but easy, this proclamation of the Law strengthened the people’s faith, hope, and courage, for the hard work they had ahead of them would not only be righteous, it would be fulfilling.
Turning to the Gospel of Luke, I want to briefly touch upon the opening statements of Luke, addressing Theophilus. He says he has decided to investigate what has been handed on to him and write it down. And so, Luke travels throughout the Holy Land in search of eyewitnesses and those who were touched by Jesus, to discover for himself what he had heard proclaimed from others. This was no easy undertaking, and would have required years of investigation, but it is inspired by the kernel of faith that had already been deposited in Luke’s heart. The pages of his gospel are the fruit of his investigation. Interestingly, we see passages from Mark and Matthew’s gospels within Luke. Then we see particularly Lucan passages that do not appear anywhere else, such as the introduction we heard today.
Having established that Luke has determined to investigate the life of Jesus, we might also consider that, since several decades had passed, Luke is already operating with a slightly more developed theology than St. Paul or even Mark. It does not make Luke’s gospel any more significant than the others. Truly, one single account of the life of Jesus is all anyone would ever need, however, Luke’s mission in writing his gospel is evidence of the deepening reflection of the Church at that time. Just as Jesus encouraged his disciples to put out into deep water for a catch, so too, does Luke, show a deepening appreciation for the life and teachings of Jesus.
Fast forward to chapter 4, when Jesus is in Nazareth, where he grew up, and enters the synagogue. It was customary for the men of the congregation to take turns reading from the Scriptures, and when they were done proclaiming, to offer some reflection on the text. Jesus, having found the passage referring to the Anointed Bearer of Glad Tidings, tells the people: “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.” And for his reflection, his homily, Jesus simply says, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Let us consider the awesome ramifications of what Jesus says in light of the passage he just proclaimed. What is he telling the people? He is telling them that the Spirit of the Lord is upon him to bring glad tidings to the poor. Remember how the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove during his baptism? This is the Spirit of the Lord, a Spirit of Joy, to bring glad tidings, good news, to the poor. He is to proclaim liberty to captives and a year acceptable to the Lord. Such a year is called a Jubilee. Every fiftieth year, the law prescribed that all debts were to be wiped out, and all lands returned to their lawful owners. Could you imagine if we had such a jubilee today? No more mortgages, no more car payments, no more credit card bills. This was serious. And Jesus was saying that he is the one to usher in this jubilee.
But, what kind of jubilee was Jesus really speaking of? We all know that having our monetary debts wiped out is a fantasy, so what did Jesus really come to wipe away? We know the answer. Jesus came to free us from sin and death. And the price he paid was his own blood, shed for all who come to believe that he is the Son of God. How’s that for a paradigm shift?
So, as we gather to celebrate the awesome gift of God in the giving of the Law and the sacrifice of Jesus, may the communion we share unite us in the paradigm-shifting event of the Kingdom of God. Our debts have been paid, Jesus has already opened the door to us. All we have to do is follow him.