After last week’s passage from John, today we resume with Luke, the Year C evangelist. The reading — Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21 — gives us Luke’s introduction to the gospel and then jumps forward to Jesus’ first preaching. We hear that Jesus “stood up to read.” We aren’t told whether this was by invitation and pre-arrangement or whether he just took it on himself “in the power of the Spirit.” I’m inclined to believe the latter. It further says that “he opened the scroll and found the passage,” which also sounds as if he was making the decision for himself. He reads Isaiah 61:1-2. Then he sits down— sitting being the posture of a teacher — and his teaching is that the passage is fulfilled in their hearing: it applies to him. In other words, he is claiming the mandate of the one anointed to bring good news, healing, liberty, and a year of favor.
The word anointed is the word we use to refer to the descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus at his baptism. Now he is acting in the power of the Spirit, and h is applying the word anointed publicly to himself. That word anointed is in Hebrew the word we transliterate Messiah. In other words, Jesus is saying, at the start of his ministry, that he is the Messiah, but his Messiahship is not one of establishing the independence of the people of Israel. He is not a political-military messiah. He is a Messiah who lifts up the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed.
Jesus proclaims “a year acceptable to the Lord.” In the context of what goes before, we may well think of the Jubilee Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis. The anointing which Jesus has is to perform spiritual and corporal works of mercy. With our own baptismal anointing, we too are called and empowered to perform works of mercy.
The first reading — Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10 — presents us with another, earlier reading of scripture to an assembly. The Israelites have returned from exile and rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. Now Ezra reads the Torah to the assembled people to renew their way of life according to the Covenant. The people are distressed when they realize that they have been acting in ways contrary to the Law. But the day is holy and it must be a day of rejoicing.
The people show great reverence for the Torah scroll, the word of God. In our sacred assemblies on the Lord’s Day, we, too should show reverence for the scriptures. God is present to us in his word, and even the book in which it is written deserves respect. And as with the Israelites of Nehemiah and Ezra’s time, the Lord’s Day should be for us a day of rejoicing in the Lord.
In the responsorial psalm — Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 15 with a refrain based on John 6:63 — we reflect onwhat a blessing it is to have God’s word in sacred scripture.
The second reading — 1 Corinthians 12:12-30 — picks up where last week’s left off.Paul underscores the variety of ministries with an analogy of the human body. Each ministry is given by God for the benefit of the whole church, not just for the one who possesses it. Each ministry has a function to play. As unimportant as it may seem, it is needed. Paul also presents the idea that this body, the church, is Christ’s body. We have often called it the “mystical body of Christ” to distinguish it from his physical body and from his sacramental body in the Eucharist. It is this body, of which we are all parts, through which Jesus continues to act in history., which is what it means, as I said above, that we are called and empowered to perform works of mercy — those listed in Isaiah, as well as Matthew 25, and elsewhere.
It is also worth reflecting that this reading occurs during the week of prayer for Christian unity. While Paul was not writing with the current divisions among Christians in mind, certainly we can see that a divided Christianity is not something he would have wanted, when even the factions at Corinth were unacceptable. So it is always appropriate for us to pray for the unit among Christians which is God’s will for his Church.