Who of us wouldn’t like a second chance, a new beginning, especially if we have made mistakes over the course of our lives?
Two of today’s readings speak of new beginnings in the relationship between God and his chosen people. In the first reading, Nehemiah has just completed reconstruction of the city’s defensive wall and has reorganized the priests for resumption of Temple worship. Now it is time to bring the people into the process. So, with all the people gathered together, Nehemiah and Ezra, the scribe, proclaim and explain the book of the Law to them. Because it is a new beginning after Israel’s release from exile, Nehemiah and Ezra exhort the people to celebrate: “The joy of the Lord must be your strength.”
Luke’s Gospel is a recounting of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus returns “in the power of the Holy Spirit” to Nazareth and stands up in the synagogue to read from a passage he selects from the prophet Isaiah. In it, Isaiah declares that the Spirit of the Lord has commissioned him to announce good news to the poor, news of release from captivity, recovery of sight for the blind, liberty to the oppressed—all in all, a year “of the Lord’s favor,” that is, the Old Testament celebration of what was called the Year of Jubilee. Jesus applies that passage to himself. At the start of his own ministry, he also announces a new beginning for Israel. He is the one who will release prisoners from captivity to sin, open the eyes of faith, deliver those under demonic oppression, and complete the restorations that the Jubilee Year stands for.
But it isn’t just the people of Jesus’ time who experience the newness. The Holy Spirit continues that work in the Body of Christ, the Church, as Paul describes in the second reading from 1 Corinthians. The Spirit’s gifts are freely bestowed on the members of the Church and are exercised in a spirit of unity, so that “there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.” These are ministry gifts, whose function is to continue in the body the same liberating work of Jesus. Even after twenty centuries, the “year” of Jubilee is only beginning.
First Reading Reflection
Ezra and Nehemiah dedicated the Temple during the Feast of Booths (also called Tabernacles), which commemorates the sojourn in the desert and the giving of the Law and the covenanting of Israel to God. This feast was an appropriate time for Ezra and the Jewish people to renew the Covenant. When the Law was read, we are told, the people wept. Why did the Israelites cry when they heard the Law? They wept over their sin and consequent punishment of foreign oppression under which they still lived.
But Ezra told the people not to weep but to rejoice, since the Covenant was being renewed and the Feast of Booths was for celebrating God’s Law and the blessings that come from the Covenant. The sadness of the Jews was caused by their history of sin and also the rigor of the Law that called them to give up things that they were attached to. The Law called Israel to sacrifice many of the things of this world for the sake of obtaining the spiritual blessings of God. We too experience sadness in cutting our attachments, but God will bless our sacrifices with abundant joy.
Second Reading Reflection
St Paul paints a word picture in this passage to help quell some of the dissension that was apparently rife in the church in Corinth. He draws out in a colorful way the implications of the doctrine of the church as the body of Christ. The unity of the members of the Church is to be like that of the various parts of one body. That is, the limbs of a body don’t compete for primacy or pull in different directions; they cooperate because they’re unified by the single intention or purpose that’s supplied by the head.
Church unity is to be an actual, organic unity like that of the body. Whenever we speak of our Church we speak of ourselves. Even today we hear of news or polls that seek to gauge what percentage of Catholics agree with the Pope or the Church on various topics. To a Catholic, however, the whole idea is as silly as asking a foot what it thinks about the hand to which it’s attached—to which it’s united—in one body.
The telling of this story is unique to the Gospel of Luke, providing us with information that’s not given in the other two synoptic accounts. Jesus is preaching in his hometown where he was known not as the Second Person of the Trinity, but in the fullness of his humanity. Although Jesus’ identity wasn’t known to those whom he taught, it’s quite clear in the Scriptures that he knew who he was and understood his role.
Today’s reading begins to establish the identity of Christ clearly within the context of what the Church calls salvation history. The messianic proclamation that Jesus begins in this episode from Luke will become broader and deeper as the Gospel advances and will not, in fact, be fully explicated until Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. As Catholics, we believe that Jesus himself is the principle of unity between the Old and New Testaments, the key to salvation history. There’s no other way to fully understand the message that Jesus taught in the synagogues and streets of Palestine.
In today’s Opening the Word video presentation available free on FORMED.org, we reflect on the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and the announcement he makes to the people of his hometown. As you listen, imagine how you might have felt if you were present when Jesus was making his announcement.
What was supposed to happen during the Jubilee Year? How does the Jubilee apply to us?
In the Gospel reading, Jesus announces the fulfillment of the Isaiah passage. He comes to release us from slavery to sin and from spiritual debts we cannot repay.
Has there been a time in your life when someone paid a debt for you? Perhaps it was a financial debt. Or maybe it was simply someone doing something for you that you could not do on your own.
How can you express more gratitude to God for paying the debt of your sins on the cross?
Write your responses in a journal, discuss them with a friend, or post your responses in St Michael’s Opening the Word Discussion group found on the “Community” tab at FORMED.org.
Reflections reprinted here with permission from Augustine Institute.