Sunday, January 27, 2019

Jesus, Messiah and Lord

Readings: Nehemiah 8:2-4a.5-6.8-10; Ps 19:8-10.15; 1 Corinthians 12:12-30; Luke 1:1-4.4:14-21

Our Gospel reading today consists of the opening passage of St. Luke's Gospel and then, skipping the entire infancy narrative, along with his baptism by John and his 40 days and nights in the desert, goes to the formal beginning of Jesus's public ministry. I say "formal beginning" because, according to Luke's account, prior to is Messianic proclamation in his hometown on a Sabbath and presumably after his return from his desert sojourn, "Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit,and news of him spread throughout the whole region. He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all" (Luke 4:14-15).

By configuring the reading in his way, the lectionary conforms Luke to the modality used by the inspired author of the Gospel According to St. Mark (see Mark 1:1-15). In short, our reading seeks to get to the heart of the matter: Jesus is Messiah and Lord. The passage from Isaiah that Jesus proclaims contains a Messianic aspiration that we can call a prophecy, prediction. In other words, when Jesus delivers his nine-word homily, there is no doubt in the minds of his hearers what he has just said: he publicly proclaimed himself to be the Messiah. What response did this elicit? The congregation attempted to kill him (Luke 4:28-30).

Jesus was forced to extend his homily when, in response to his initial nine-word declaration, he hears people asking, "Isn’t this the son of Joseph?" (Luke 4:22), he responds to this murmuring with a rebuke:
"Surely you will quote me this proverb, 'Physician, cure yourself,' and say, 'Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.'" And he said, "Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian"

His rebuke points to two instances in the Hebrew Scriptures (i.e., the Old Testament) in which the glory of God was made manifest, not through his chosen people, but through Gentiles. This itself points to the universal implications of Israel's election, which universality is realized in and through Jesus Christ. Jesus issued this rebuke in anticipation of their demand, in response to his Messianic claim, to perform some sign, to given them some proof to back-up his bold claim. It was his rebuke that so infuriated the congregation, most of whom would've been related to Jesus.

Through our Baptism and Confirmation, we are filled with Christ's Spirit, the same Spirit he declared, using Isaiah's words in today's Gospel, to "be upon him." In our epistle reading, St. Paul details the results of being, not individually, but corporately, filled with the Spirit of the Lord. In the first instance, the Spirit makes us one spirit, one body in Christ. Every member of Christ's body, without exception, is given some gift for the building up and growth of the Body of Christ. Belonging to a parish, a community, which is a microcosm of the Body of Christ, the Body of Christ not in but for a specific place and the people who inhabit it, provides us with opportunities to be of service to each other and our larger community.

Pairing the passage in Nehemiah about the public proclamation of the recovered Law with Luke's account of the formal beginning of Jesus's public ministry, complete with his explication, taken from Isaiah, about what constitutes his Messianic mission, serves to demonstrate that the Law is not an end in itself but the means to the end of loving God with your entire being by loving your neighbor as you love yourself. Towards the end, our reading from Nehemiah gives us a hint: "Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our LORD" (emboldening and italicized emphasis mine). It is on these two commandments on which the law and the prophets depend (Matt 22:40).

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