This Sunday we celebrate the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time. During Ordinary Time the readings tend to focus not on doctrinal issues but on questions of how to better and more closely follow Jesus. In order to follow Jesus properly we need to have an accurate view of who Jesus is and of who and what we are called to be in Him. This Sunday’s readings invite us to begin to address these questions. In the Gospel reading Jesus provides a mission statement of sorts for His ministry. How faithful have I been to continuing the ministry He began? Am I touched by God’s word as the returning Israelites are touched by it, in the first reading?
First Reading: Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10
2 On the first day of the seventh month, therefore, Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly, which consisted of men, women, and those children old enough to understand. 3 Standing at one end of the open place that was before the Water Gate, he read out of the book from daybreak till midday, in the presence of the men, the women, and those children old enough to understand; and all the people listened attentively to the book of the law. 4 Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that had been made for the occasion; at his right side stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, and on his left Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, Meshullam. 5 Ezra opened the scroll so that all the people might see it (for he was standing higher up than any of the people); and, as he opened it, all the people rose. 6 Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people, their hands raised high, answered, “Amen, amen!” Then they bowed down and prostrated themselves before the LORD, their faces to the ground. 7 (The Levites Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, and Pelaiah explained the law to the people, who remained in their places.) 8 Ezra read plainly from the book of the law of God, interpreting it so that all could understand what was read. 9 Then (Nehemiah, that is, His Excellency, and) Ezra the priest-scribe (and the Levites who were instructing the people) said to all the people: “Today is holy to the LORD your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep”-for all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law. 10 He said further: “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our LORD. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength!”
NOTES on First Reading:
The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story of the people of Israel, who after being held in captivity in Babylon for many years (nearly three generations), finally returned home to rebuild the Temple and Jerusalem. In today’s reading the refugees are hearing the complete Law read for the first time in a long time and, many of them who grew up in Babylon, for the first time. They recognized that they have not lived according to the Law of God.
* 8:2-10 This section describes part of the formal recommitment process. By hearing and assenting to the word of God Israel is reconstituted the people of God. This reading is very close to a description of an early synagogue service.
* 8:2 Women and children normally attended only the more important of the assemblies. Their attendance underscores the importance of this assembly.
* 8:3 They were outside the gate and not on sacred ground.
* 8:4 The last half of this verse is left out of the reading because the list of names makes it hard to proclaim and adds little to the typical hearers understanding.
* 8:5 Ezra probably read from the scrolls that would later be assembled into what we know as the Pentateuch. The exact nature of the “book of the Law” that he read has long been the object of controversy.
* 8:7 The Lectionary reading excludes this verse which consists mainly of a list of names for the same reasons as it excluded the last part of 8:4.
* 8:8 The interpretation of the Law for the people seems to have become a Levite function only after the exile.
* 8:9 The people wept in recognition that they, the people of God, have not been obedient to the law of God. Having just returned from captivity they see how the Law has been ignored and dishonored all the time they were in Babylon.
* 8:10 Some see a heavy-handed attempt on the part of the clergy to cheer up the crowd who has reacted with sorrow at the severity of the Pentateuch. Another explanation is that the clergy is drawing the attention of the crowd away from their sense of guilt and toward God’s mercy and His love for them in the midst of the re-established covenant relationship.
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:12-30
12 As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit. 14 Now the body is not a single part, but many. 15 If a foot should say, “Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. 16 Or if an ear should say, “Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.” 22 Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary, 23 and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor, and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety, 24 whereas our more presentable parts do not need this. But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, 25 so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. 26 If (one) part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy. 27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it. 28 Some people God has designated in the church to be, first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers; then, mighty deeds; then, gifts of healing, assistance, administration, and varieties of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work mighty deeds? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?
NOTES on Second Reading:
* 12:12-30 The idea of society as a body was common and widespread in the ancient world but it is not a likely source for the concept as Paul uses it for the Church. He tended to see society as characterized by division and predicated “body” of the Christian community to emphasize its organic unity. The image of a body also serves to explain Christ’s relationship with believers (1 Cor 12:12). 1 Cor 12:13 applies this model to the church. In baptism all of us, despite our diversity are integrated into one organism, Christ Himself. Verses 14-26 discuss the need for diversity of function among the parts of a body without causing a threat to its unity.
* 12:12 The many members share one existence in Christ who is their life.
* 12:13 The use of the aorist tense in the verb indicates that this is not specifically a reference to the Eucharist, but rather, it refers to the Spirit Who is always and everywhere present within the Church.
* 12:14-27 We, as the “Body of Christ,” are not free to disassociate ourselves from each other without consequences to ourselves and to the whole Body.
* 12:14 Given the context, this verse is a key to understanding Paul’s teaching on the “Body of Christ”. Just as a body must contain many members that are different. So the Church must have a rich diversity of spiritual gifts among its members and each one makes a specific and necessary contribution to the well-being of the whole.
* 12:28-30 Paul now applies verse 14 to the spiritual gifts.
* 12:28 The first three gifts set off from the others by being numbered and personalized constitute the “threefold ministry of the word” by which the Church is founded and built up. They therefore occupy a special place in the list.
Gospel Reading: Luke 1: 1-4; 4: 14-21
1 Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, 3 I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received. 14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news of him spread throughout the whole region. 15 He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all. 16 He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the Sabbath day. He stood up to read 17 and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: 18 “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, 19 and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” 20 Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. 21 He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
NOTES on Gospel:
* 1:1-4 Luke’s is the only Gospel that begins with a formal literary introduction. It consists of a finely crafted Greek sentence stretching over four verses. In the Greek text, Verses 1 and 2 provide the “since” clause, verse 3 is the main clause and verse 4 is the “purpose” clause. Using a formal, literary construction and vocabulary, the author writes the prologue in imitation of Hellenistic Greek writers and, in so doing, relates his story about Jesus to contemporaneous Greek and Roman literature. Besides the words and deeds of Jesus, Luke is also interested in the larger context of the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus as the fulfillment of the promises of God in the Old Testament. As a second- or third-generation Christian, Luke acknowledges his debt to earlier eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word, but claims that his contribution to this developing tradition is a complete and accurate account, told in an orderly manner, and intended to provide readers with certainty about earlier teaching they have received. In many ways Luke has produced a “kerygmatic narrative” or proclamation that requires a faith response. We do not know whether Theophilus (literally, “friend of God,”) is a specific individual that Luke was writing to or whether the name is a general term for his readers.
* 4:14 The proclamation of God’s kingdom in word and deed stems from God’s creative Spirit present in Jesus. Galilee is important to Luke as the place where he begins his description of the meaning of God’s kingdom and where God’s promises were fulfilled in the preaching of Jesus, His restoration of men and women to health and His casting out of demons. It is also the place where the apostles were gathered as witnesses of Jesus’ ministry. Spreading of the news about Jesus is a Lukan theme; see Luke 4:37; 5:15; 7:17.
* 4:15 Here Luke introduces the pervasive theme of Jesus as a teacher. The verb “to teach” is used of Jesus 14 times in Luke’s Gospel and 13 times Jesus is called “teacher”. He is called “Master” six times. Many of these occur in synagogues and in the Temple. It is a way that Luke uses to emphasize Jesus’ authority in addressing people about God and God’s plan. It also establishes that Jesus the master has disciples for whom His way is normative. They form His “synagogue.”
* 4:16-30 Luke has moved an incident which Mark relates near the end of the Galilean ministry (Mark 6:1-6a) to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry . In doing so, Luke turns the initial admiration (Luke 4:22) and subsequent rejection of Jesus (Luke 4:28-29) into a foreshadowing of the whole future ministry of Jesus. Moreover, the rejection of Jesus in his own hometown hints at the greater rejection of him by Israel (Acts 13:46).
* 4:16 Jesus apparently regularly attended synagogue services. This practice was later carried on by the early Christians who continued to meet in the temple (Acts 2:46; 3:1; 5:12) and in the synagogue.
* 4:17-19 Luke has constructed the reading from Isaiah in order to present his theology of promise and fulfillment. The Isaiah text is not to be found in exactly this form on a synagogue scroll. It is an artistic text woven from Isa 61:1-2 and Isa 58:6 colored by Luke’s view of Christ. Luke has taken Isa 61:1a,b,d; 61:2a and purposely left out Isa 61:1c:”to heal the broken-hearted” and “61:2b-3a:” a day of vindication, to console those who mourn, to give those of Zion who mourn glory instead of ashes”. By carefully selecting the phrases of Isa 61:1-2 and adding Isa 58:6 Luke avoids any possibility of the message being “spiritualized” or narrowed in focus. He wanted to be blunt in his message.
* 4:18 As this incident develops, Jesus is portrayed as a prophet whose ministry is compared to that of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. Prophetic anointings are known in first-century Palestinian Judaism from the Qumran literature that speaks of prophets as God’s anointed ones. More than any other gospel writer Luke is concerned with Jesus’ attitude toward the economically and socially poor (see Luke 6:20,24; 12:16-21; 14:12-14; 16:19-26; 19:8). At times, the poor in Luke’s gospel are associated with the downtrodden, the oppressed and afflicted, the forgotten and the neglected (Luke 4:18; 6:20-22; 7:22; 14:12-14), and it is they who accept Jesus’ message of salvation.
* 4:21 Today is not to be taken as a reference to the historical then of Jesus’ time. It introduces an important Lukan theme and refers to the present today of the time of fulfillment. See Luke 2:11;22:61;23:43. Jesus inaugurates the time of fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Luke presents the ministry of Jesus as fulfilling Old Testament hopes and expectations (Luke 7:22); for Luke, even Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection are done in fulfillment of the scriptures (Luke 24:25-27,44-46; Acts 3:18).</FONT
Scripture text: New American Bible with revised New Testament copyright © 1986,1970, Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.
Vince Del Greco
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (1990) (Eds. Brown, Fitzmyer & Murphy)