THIRD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR – JANUARY 25, 1998 – BLESSED SACRAMENT
With a certain solemnity, today’s Gospel passage introduces us into Luke’s account of the ministry of Jesus. We are brought to his hometown, to the synagogue he attended, where he is asked to do the reading of the Scriptures. By deliberate intent, it seems, he unrolls the scroll to the passage from the prophet, reads it, and then as everyone waits expectantly, he announces: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
It was a bold claim. Today, Jesus was saying, the anointed one has come, the one on whom the Spirit of the Lord has fallen, the one who brings the good news to the poor, who proclaims that captives and prisoners are free, that the blind may see, that the year of the Lord’s favor has begun. Through the various metaphors, the basic message is that the Anointed One, the Messiah, has come.
There thus began the event that is the turning-point in Israel’s history, the fulfilment of its hopes. There thus began the event which would have consequences for hundreds of years, for thousands of years, the event whose echoes have reached even down to our ears, who have heard it today, among whom today, right now, once again “this Scripture is fulfilled.”
When the Scriptures are read out at a Mass like this, they are not read simply for the sake of historical memory. This is not a history-seminar, and the Bible is not a history textbook. It is read out to us not only so that we may hear what our predecessors in the faith heard and said and did, but so that the same event that took place among them may take place among us. God is once again speaking, and we are now the ones whom he is addressing.
Throughout the coming liturgical year, this same event will be possible. The Word of God will address us, and we will be asked to respond. Parables will be told, for example, and we will have to insert ourselves into their drama, to grasp their meaning, to bear their rebuke, to receive their comfort, to recognize their challenge. At every point, the real significance will be that the Scriptures may once again be fulfilled in our hearing.
This will require of us something of the anticipation, expectation, with which Jesus’ own townsfolk awaited his word. It requires a readiness to listen, an attentiveness, a willingness to be judged and challenged and comforted by what he will have to say. Otherwise the Scriptures will not be fulfilled as we listen.
For example, today, we might consider the metaphors Jesus borrows from the prophet: Do we find ourselves, and this may vary with each of us, among the poor to whom the good news is proclaimed, among the captives or prisoners to whom liberation is promised, among the blind who are given sight? Where might our poverty lie, and how may the word of Jesus enrich it? Where is our unfreedom or slavery, and how might his word liberate us? What blindness of ours does his word suddenly illuminate? A year of favor, a Jubilee, stretches out before us: a year that can be different, that can move us out of that poverty, that unfreedom, that blindness, and all because of grace, because of God’s favor to us in Christ.
Jesus will come to us every Sunday as he came to his hometown’s synagogue. Familiarity with him kept some of his hearers from taking his words seriously. Familiarity with the stories may keep some of us from listening very carefully or taking his words seriously. It would be sad were this to happen. We have nothing to fear: it is good news he brings, freedom he announces, sight that he enables. It is a year of favor that we this day begin.