3rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle C)

Readings:
Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10
Psalm 19:8-10, 15
1 Corinthians 12:12-30
Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of the Readings: The Word and the Body
In our First Reading and in the Gospel Reading both Ezra the priest in the sixth century BC and Jesus in the first century AD stand up before the assembly of the covenant people to read the word of God from Sacred Scripture.  They both also interpret the reading for the people of God who are present so they will understand.  In the First Reading the people of Judah have been liberated from their Babylonian captivity and have returned to the Promised Land.  They will rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple, where, as a "body" of one people in covenant with God, they will again celebrate their sacred feasts, offer worship to Yahweh, and live in obedience to the Law.  That event prepares us for the Gospel reading where Jesus has come to His hometown to worship in the Synagogue, to read the word of God from the book of the prophet Isaiah, and to announce to the body of believers assembled that He is the promised Messiah who has come to liberate His people from the curse of sin and death.

In the Second Reading St. Paul tells the church at Corinth that as individuals and as a faith community they are part of the body of believers who form the unified Body of Jesus Christ that is the Church.  Paul writes to the believers at Corinth about their diversity and their unity.  Each one of them has been given different spiritual gifts, and each has a part in the Body of Christ.  Paul tells them, and us, that a faithful Christian should do his/her part in service to Christ to the best of his/her abilities and so contribute to the well-being of the Church as a whole in carrying forward the Gospel of salvation in works of love and mercy. 

The First Reading Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10 (NJB) ~ Listening to the Word of the Law
2 The priest Ezra brought the Law before the assembly, consisting of men, women and all those old enough to understand.  3 In the square in front of the Water Gate, in the presence of the men and women, and of those old enough to understand, he read from the book [scroll] from dawn till noon; all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. 4a The scribe Ezra stood on a wooden dais erected for the purpose ... 5 In full view of the people—since he stood higher than them all—Ezra opened the book [scroll]; and when he opened it, all the people stood up.  6 Then Ezra blessed Yahweh, the great God, and all the people raised their hands and answered, "Amen! Amen!"; then they bowed down and, face to the ground, prostrated themselves before Yahweh ... 8 Ezra read from the book of the Law of God, translating and giving the sense; so the reading was understood.  9 Then His Excellency Nehemiah and the priest-scribe Ezra and the Levites who were instructing the people said to all the people, "Today is sacred to Yahweh your God.  Do not be mournful, do not weep."  For the people were all in tears as they listened to the words of the Law.  10 He then said, "You may go; eat what is rich, drink what is sweet and send a helping to the man who has nothing prepared.  For today is sacred to our Lord.  Do not be sad: the joy of Yahweh is your stronghold."   [...] = literal Hebrew translation.

In the month of Tishri in the early fall, the people of God celebrated the last three of the seven sacred feasts ordained by God: the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah) on the first of Tishri, the Feast of Atonement (Yom Kippur) ten days later, and then on the fifteenth through the twenty-first the Feast of Tabernacles or Shelters, also called Booths (Sukkot) that ended in a Sacred Assembly on the eighth day.  The Feast of Tabernacles was also one of the three "pilgrim feasts" in which every man of the covenant was required by the Law to present himself before God's holy altar in the city of Jerusalem (Lev 23; Num 28-39; Ex 23:14-17; Dt 16:16; 2 Chr 8:13).  These feasts were only "remembered" during the covenant people's seventy years of captivity in Babylon, but with their return from exile they were again ready to keep the appointed feasts with Yahweh, God of Israel, in obedience to the Law of the Covenant. 

The assembly in our reading took place in the seventh month (Neh 8:1) on what was probably the first day of the Sacred Assembly of the Feast of Tabernacles.  It was a feast in which the children of Israel relived the giving of the Law and the ratification of the covenant at Mount Sinai (Ex 20:1-17; 24:1-11), offered special sacrifices on God's holy altar, and spent seven days of the feast living in shelters made of branches and palm fronds to remind them of the temporary shelters in which the people lived at Mt. Sinai before one final Sacred Assembly on the eighth day (Num 29:12-38).  Since it was a feast that relived the giving of the word of God in the Law, it was fitting that Ezra the priest should stand before the people to read from the Book of the Law.  He did this in the city square beside the city wall because the Temple had not yet been rebuilt.  The people came and stood in front of him "gathered as one"—one body of covenant believers (Neh 8:1).

Scholars do not agree on what exactly is meant by the "Book of the Law."  Was it all of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy—all of which contain parts of the Law in three sections: the Covenant Code, the Holiness Code and the Deuteronomic Code—or did he only read from the laws contained in the Book of Deuteronomy?  That he read for six hours from dawn to noon suggests that he may have read all of the Law contained the books mentioned.

Ezra not only read the scroll of the Law from the sacred texts, he also translated and explained.  At this time many of the Israelites had lost the ability to speak Hebrew.  Aramaic, the language of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires, had become the common language of Ezra's generation during their seventy-year exile.  Ezra not only translated from the sacred Hebrew texts, but he also explained each passage as he continued to read to the people so they would correctly understand the word of God made present in their lives.

The people responded by demonstrating their reverence for the word of God by first standing and then by giving the assent by proclaiming the words "Amen, amen" (emen in Hebrew), before bowing down to the ground.  The Hebrew word "emen" was used to convey agreement as in "It is so" or belief as in "I believe."  But the word "emen" is a Hebrew acrostic formed from the first letters of the three words of the phrase El melech Ne'eman, which means "God is a trustworthy king" (The Jewish Talmud, Shabbat 1196).

In verse 9 the people began to weep when they realized how far they had strayed from their obedience to the Law of God.  But Ezra told them "Today is sacred to Yahweh your God.  Do not be mournful, do not weep."  He told them instead to celebrate and show mercy to the less fortunate because Yahweh God of Israel was their Savior and their reason to rejoice.

Responsorial Psalm 19:8-10, 15 ~ The Word of the Lord is Life
The response is: "Your words, Lord, are spirit and life."
 
8 The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul: the decree of the LORD is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple. 
Response:
9 The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the command of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eye.
Response:
10 The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the LORD are true, all of them just.
Response:
15 Let the words of my mouth and the thought of my heart find favor before you, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Psalm 19 is attributed to David, God's anointed King of Israel.  The psalm proclaims the goodness of the Law God gave to Israel.  The psalmist says that God's Law is perfect and he makes eight statements in verses 8-10 concerning the perfection of the Law in one's life:

  1. The words of God's Law refresh the soul.
  2. The Law is trustworthy.
  3. The Law gives wisdom.
  4. The Law is righteous.
  5. The Law rejoices the heart/life of the believer.
  6. The Law is clear in enlightening moral insight.
  7. The Law is true.
  8. The Law endures forever.

In the end of the psalm (verse 15), the psalmist petitions the Lord to guide his words and thoughts so they find favor before God who is his "Rock" and his Redeemer.  The title "Rock" refers to God's unshakable reliability in the life of the believer and the truth of His word which can never be shaken.

The Second Reading 1 Corinthians 12:12-30 or 12:12-14, 27 ~ We are One Body
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.  Now the body is not a single part, but many.  15 If a fool 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 destined 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?  Do all have gifts of healing?  Do all speak in tongues?  Do all interpret?

St. Paul uses the image of the "body" to explain Christ's relationship with believers (verse 12).  In verse 13 he applies this image to the Church which, through the Sacrament of Baptism, all believers, despite their diversity of ethnic origin, or social status, or whether they are males or females, is integrated into one organism that is the Body of Christ.  This is not a concept that would have been foreign to Jewish-Christians who in the Old Covenant Church understood that Israel was a unity of one people who worshipped Yahweh. 

Then St. Paul goes on to discuss the gifts of the Holy Spirit that make each Christian unique within the unity of the Body of Christ (verses 27-29).  All the various gifts he mentions are charismata, special gifts of grace from God to enable special service (diakonial) to the Body and all are workings (energemata) in which God is at work in each believer.  Just like different parts of the human body work together for a healthy and efficient body, so too do Christians work together through their various spiritual gifts for the health and benefit of the Body of Christ and without treat to the total unity of the Church.

The Gospel of Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21 ~ Proclaiming the Word
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 [katecheo] 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."  [...] = literal translation (IBGE, vol. IV, page).

St. Luke begins the prologue to his gospel by mentioning that there are other gospels recording the events of Jesus' life.  Some scholars count as many as 34 different gospels written within the first 2-3 centuries of the Church while others count more.  However, the Church has always maintained, and as Origen, the head of the Christian school of Catechesis in Alexandria, Egypt in the 3rd century testified, from the very beginning of the Church only four Gospels were acknowledged as Holy Spirit inspired:  As to the four Gospels, which alone are indisputable in the Church of God under heaven....

St. Luke's Gospel is not the only Gospel to begin with a prologue, but it is the only Gospel to begin with a formal literary prologue that was common in secular documents of the time.  See for example Flavius Josephus' Greek prologue to Against Apion, 1.1.1-3 in which Josephus dedicates his work to "most excellent Epaphroditus," just as Luke dedicates his work to "most excellent Theophilus."  Josephus also dedicated his companion work to the same man, writing: "In the first volume of this work, most esteemed Epaphroditus, I proved the antiquity of our race ..." (Against Apion, 2.1[1]), just as St. Luke dedicates his second work to the same person: In the first book. Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught ... (Acts 1:1).

Who was Theophilus? 

  1. Some have suggested he was Luke's patron who was funding the publication (handwritten) of his Gospel (and later the companion work Acts of Apostles; see Acts 1:1).
  2. Others have suggested the name of the benefactor or the man honored by the dedication is substituted by the code name "theo-philus", in Greek literally meaning "God-lover" (and sometimes translated "friend of God"), in order to protect his identity.
  3. Still others have suggested the name "God-lover" in the dedication refers to all believers in Christ Jesus.

Theophilus is a proper name that was commonly in use from the time of the 3rd century BC on.  It was a name given to both Greek culture Gentiles and Jews (Fr. Jospeh A. Fitzmyer, S.J., The Gospel According to Luke, page 299).  There is no reason to assume Theophilus was not the name of someone Luke knew; however, theophilus, "God-lover," also identifies the Christian readers who were contemporaries of St. Luke and all generations of Christians who continue to read St. Luke's account of Jesus' life and ministry.

There are three qualities St. Luke claims in the record of his Gospel account.  He has done his "homework" and presents an account in which he claims:

  1. He is thorough, testifying that he was an "eyewitnesses from the beginning."
  2. He is accurate in "investigating everything accurately anew."
  3. He has an account that is complete because he was committed "to write it down in an orderly sequence."

In verse 3 St. Luke presents his purpose for writing down his account of the life and ministry of Jesus.  His intent to defend the teaching/instruction Theophilus has received, referring to the katecheo or catechesis Theophilus has received as a Gentile convert to the faith.  In Greek the noun katecheo/katechizo or the verb katechein ("to catechize)" means "to teach by word of mouth" (John Hardon, S.J., Catholic Dictionary, page 63).  See the use of the verb katechein in Acts 18:25; 21:21 and 24 (also see Rom 2:18; Gal 6:6).

Luke 4:14-21 ~ Jesus Preaches in the Synagogue
The summary statement in verses 14-15 characterizes Jesus' Galilean ministry:

  1. Jesus' ministry is guided by the Spirit of God.
  2. Teaching is the focus of His ministry.
  3. Jesus' teaching was received and praised by "all the people," expressing Luke's theme of universality.

It is this same teaching that has been imparted to Theophilus, the man to whom Luke's Gospel is dedicated (Lk 1:4).

Jesus was baptized by the priest John son of Zechariah (St. John the Baptist) with a baptism of anointing by the Holy Spirit to begin His ministry, but Jesus didn't begin teaching in Perea in the south where He was baptized or cross the Jordan River into Judea to begin His ministry.  Instead He traveled back to the Galilee in the north.  The historical events of the Assyrian conquest, first of the Galilee in 733-32 BC and later of the whole Northern Kingdom in 722 BC, became part of God's divine plan to restore His people through Jesus' ministry (see 1 Kng 15:27-29; 17:1-12).  In 30 AD Jesus purposely began His restoration of the new Israel in the very territory where old Israel was first torn asunder, and the Israelite tribes of the Galilee were scattered into the Gentile lands to the east. 

Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecies of the 8th century BC prophet Isaiah's quoted in Matthew 1:23 and 4:15-16.  As prophesied by Isaiah, Jesus, the promised "God with us" (Emmanuel) who was born of a virgin, has come as a "light" to the Galilee.  He is:

  1. The child that has been born of a virgin to redeem his people (Is 7:14; 9:5)
  2. Upon his shoulder dominion rests (Is 9:5)
  3. He is the Wonder-Counselor (Is 9:5)
  4. He is the Prince of peace (Is 9:5)
  5. His is the Davidic king who judges by justice both now and forever at God's bidding (Is 9:6)

Notice that the passage from Isaiah quoted in Matthew 4:15-16 speaks of a universal salvation, not only for the people of God living in the Galilee but to the Gentiles who live to the east side of the Jordan River in the Decapolis (ten Greek culture Gentile cities) who will also come to hear Jesus preach (Mt 4:25; Mk 5:20; 7:31).

Having returned to the Galilee, Jesus came to His hometown of Nazareth and attended the Sabbath day (Saturday) service in the local Synagogue.  Nazareth is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew Nasret which may be derived from the Hebrew word "consecrate" (nazir) or "branch" (netzer/nezer).  The town is located on the south western side of the Sea of Galilee about 15 miles from the tip of the southern shore.  Nazareth is not mentioned in the Old Testament but an inscription naming Nazareth has been found at Caesarea that dates to the 1st century AD.  The town of Nazareth was insignificant (Jn 1:45-46), but it was located near the major trade highway known as the Via Maris ("Way of the Sea).

Verse 16 notes that it was "his custom" to keep the Sabbath command to worship God ( Ex 20:8-11; 31:12-17; 34:21; 35:1-3; Dt 6:12-15) by coming to the Synagogue.  Worship expressed in sacrifice took place in the Jerusalem Temple, but for those communities that were located too far away from the Temple for a Sabbath visit, worship through prayer and praise took place in the Synagogue where the Sacred Scriptures were read and reflected upon.  The president of the Synagogue was authorized to ask any male of the covenant to read and expound on the Scripture to the congregation.  On this day, he asked Jesus to stand and read the Scripture for that Saturday Sabbath service.  Like the priest Ezra, Jesus stands before the sacred assembly of the people of God to read from the word of God to the assembly of believers.  The passage Jesus read was from the Septuagint Greek translation of the scroll of Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings [good news = gospel] 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 (Lk 4:18-19 quoting Is 61:1-2 LXX).

Normally, after the Scripture reading, the reader took his seat and then gave a teaching on the passage.  As was the custom, Jesus took His seat, and then in verse 21 Jesus made a startling announcement—He told the congregation that the prophecy He read from the Book of Isaiah was fulfilled in Him.  He was revealing to His neighbors that He is the promised "Anointed One," that Isaiah wrote about in the passage, and therefore He has the authority to proclaim an extraordinary divine Jubilee liberation for the people of God as described in the prophecy.

"Anointed One" is the meaning of the word "Messiah" and refers to one who is anointed with God's Spirit and consecrated to serve as God's special agent, as prophets (1 Kng 19:16), priests (Ex 29:7; Lev 8:12) and kings, like King David, who was "the anointed of God" (1 Sam 16:1, 12-13).  Jesus declares to the people of Nazareth that He is the chosen servant of God that Isaiah wrote about who is "anointed" with the Spirit to bring justice to the earth.  The people should have also recalled a similar passage from Isaiah 42:1-7, Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations ... I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness (Is 42:1, 6-7).  God put His Spirit upon Jesus to make Him "a covenant of the people", "a light to the nations", and the liberator of the captives "who live in darkness":

But what was the prophet Isaiah referring to when the passage Jesus quoted mentions proclaiming liberty in "a year acceptable to the LORD" (Is 61:1-2)?  In the seven annual sacred feasts, the covenant people relived the Exodus experience.  However, in every seventh year, called a Sabbath year, and every fiftieth year (after the seventh Sabbath year), called a Jubilee year, the Israelites were to demonstrated the same mercy and compassion God showed to them in the Exodus liberation by extending mercy to each other.  The Jubilee year was to be a "year of liberation" (see Lev 25:10).  It was understood by the people from the prophecies of Isaiah that with the coming of the Messiah that He would generate a divine jubilee of grace and restoration, dispensing justice to the poor and suffering (i.e., Is 42:1-9; 49:5-13; 50:14-16; 61:1-11).

THE LIBERATION OF THE EXODUS EXPRESSED IN
THE JUBILEE YEAR OF GRACE
Proclamation of the Jubilee year: Seven weeks of years shall you count—seven times seven years—so that the seven cycles amount to forty-nine years.  [...].  This fiftieth year you shall make sacred by proclaiming liberty in the land for all its inhabitants (Leviticus 25:8, 10; emphasis added).

Jubilee Liberation Exodus Liberation
1.  The land would be redeemed and all land debts forgiven (Lev 25:13-17). 1.  God redeemed the "firstborn" of Israel (Ex 12:1-34) just as He redeemed all of Israel to take possession of the Promised Land.
2.  All Israelite slaves are to be freed (Lev 25:35-55). 2.  God freed Israel from slavery in Egypt (Ex 12:37-51).
3.  The land would revert to the tribal family entrusted with it (Lev 25:10, 23-34). 3.  God gave Israel stewardship of the Promised Land (Josh 3-4).

In saying that He was the fulfillment of the Isaiah passage, Jesus was proclaiming a "liberation" that would bring about in a "new Exodus."  The people were expecting that the Messiah would liberate them from their oppressors (in the 1st century AD the Romans), but that was not the kind of "exodus" that Jesus was bringing.  The meaning of His "new exodus" becomes clear in Luke 9:28-31 in the event of the Transfiguration: About eight days after he said this, he took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray.  While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.  And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem (emphasis added)

According to Luke 9:31, the "exodus" and "liberation" that Jesus' was bringing was not from the Roman occupation or to free Jewish slaves.  His liberation was from slavery to sin and death, and His "exodus" was to be from death to resurrection.

THE "NEW EXODUS" LIBERATION
FULFILLED IN JESUS CHIRST

Liberation Fulfilled in Christ

1.  The debt of the curses incurred for failing to keep the Old Covenant Law was forgiven (Lev 26:14-46; Dt 28:15-68).

Christ ransomed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree..." (Gal 3:13).

2. He freed us from slavery to sin and death.

We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin (Rom 6:6).

3. Through His death, burial, and Resurrection we received the promise of eternal life in the true Promise Land, the Kingdom of Heaven.

Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."  He replied to him, "Amen, I say to you. Today you will be with me in Paradise" (Lk 23:42-43).

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013

Jesus came not only to fulfill the prophecies of the prophets and to restore the faithful remnant of Israel, but also to extend the gift of eternal salvation to all mankind, undoing the work of Satan in the fall of our original parents, and bringing about an exodus out of sin into a new and eternal Covenant in which the indwelling of the Holy Spirit would bring about One Body in Christ in the universal ("catholic") Church.

Catechism References:

1 Corinthians 12:13 (CCC 694, 790, 798, 1227, 1267, 1396); 12:26-27 (CCC 953); 12:26 (CCC 1469); 12:27 (CCC 1265); 12:28 (CCC 1508); 12:30 (CCC 1508)

Luke 4:16-21 (CCC 436); 4:18-19 (CCC 695, 714); 4:18 (CCC 544, 2443), 4:19 (CCC 1168)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2016