SERMON PREACHED BY FR. TONY NOBLE ON SUNDAY JANUARY 24th 2010
Luke 4.21: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”
On the Sundays Epiphany the Sunday gospels relate the beginning of Our Lord’s ministry. Today St Luke begins with Jesus’ coming back straight after his 40 days of testing in the wilderness with these words: “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee”.
Jesus comes to Nazareth, his home town. He goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and is asked to do the reading. He chooses the well-known words of the prophet Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…..to preach good news to the poor…….to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed”.
Then Jesus sits down and calmly states: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”.
We note certain things about this gospel.
Firstly, St Luke says that Jesus returned in the power of the Holy Spirit. In other words, he was all fired up!
Secondly, the scripture he chose was about the Messiah doing certain things.
This passage from Isaiah is the basis for what is known as Liberation Theology. This was an important thing in the 60’s & 70’s. I remember it well. It led South American catholic priests to fight against dictatorships, to Episcopal priests protesting racial discrimination and to many people in Australia & Britain protesting South Africa’s apartheid regime.
Social justice remains an important part of the gospel. And social action and important expression of following Christ – though it is still mainly taken up by the young!
Most of us live out our lives in quiet discipleship, trying to do good where we can, trying to show love and trying to live better lives. Over time we have discovered that attendance at Mass helps that.
Today Luke begins Jesus’ ministry with a call to action. Let me contrast today’s gospel with last week’s.
The gospel was John 2:1-11, the wedding at Cana. Here John begins Jesus’ ministry not with preaching in the synagogue, and what seems to be a call to arms – but at a wedding feast, a celebration of joy, where Jesus is in the background and says hardly anything. Except to turn the water into wine.
We know this is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry also, because St John says:
“This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory”.
There is a fascinating contrast between last Sunday and today. On the one hand, Luke has Jesus preaching about liberation and fulfillment, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. And on the other hand, John has Jesus performing a quiet miracle as a sign.
In that miracle Jesus is establishing the sacramental principle – that God uses material things (like water, wine & bread) to convey things of the Spirit. That in the sacraments he changes ordinary things into the extraordinary – that his presence may be conveyed.
At first glance these 2 gospels illustrate the two approaches in church life. In Luke it is preaching and conversion – and a call to action. In John it is a celebration of joy and the divjne presence, and emphasizes the importance of the sacraments.
It would be easy for me to say that this equals Rite 1 versus Rite 2! But that would be a flawed analogy. For a life centered on the Eucharist leads to a concern for justice and action in the world. They do go together.
Christ is revealed when Christians take action, just as surely as He is revealed in the Eucharist. However, social action which does not flow out of the Eucharist could be done by anyone, including Muslims, non-believers and atheists.
At Cana Jesus revealed who He was by what he did. At Nazareth Jesus revealed who He was by what he said. This is shown by verse 21: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”.
In other words, the prophecy came true as Jesus read it. This is an amazing statement by Jesus. For up to this point in time there is no record of Jesus healing the blind or setting captives free…….what can he mean?
Isaiah 61:1-2 was a prophecy about the messiah. So Jesus is proclaiming that he is the messiah, the Christ.
Luke says that Jesus “returned in the power of the Spirit” – and Isaiah’s prophecy begins: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me”. Jesus has been anointed with the Holy Spirit. He is the anointed one – which is the meaning of the Greek Christus, from which we get the word Christ.
Whereas John declares Jesus as the Christ by a miracle – Luke declares that because Jesus is the Christ, therefore he will do miracles. Both gospels are proclaiming that Jesus is the Christ at the beginning of His ministry.
Luke’s final words of Jesus in today’s gospel show that belief in Jesus as the Christ is not only at the heart of our Faith – but at the heart of our actions also. What makes us sure that Jesus is the Son of God is what he said on that Sabbath day in the synagogue at Nazareth.
The reality of that Sabbath day is what we proclaim on this Sabbath day……..that He is the Christ, through whom we are saved and made free.