Opening reflection (taken from Magnificat magazine, www.magnificat.com): St. Luke writes his Gospel so that the reader will “realize the certainty of the teachings” received. That certainty flows from the Man in the synagogue who reads the scroll of Isaiah and promises that He will bring glad tidings to the poor; that He will proclaim liberty to captives; that He will give recovery of sight to the blind; that He will let the oppressed go free. Only God can work such wonders; that is why rejoicing in the Lord in our midst must be our strength. As the eyes of all those assembled in the synagogue looked intently at Jesus, they began to become the body of Christ.
(This weekend’s Scripture readings are available in the New American Bible translation at the Vatican’s English website at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/_INDEX.HTM.)
First Reading: Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10 (Revised Standard Version)
A reading from the book of Nehemiah.
Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden pulpit which they had made for the purpose. Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people; and when he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God; and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands; and they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. And they read from the book, from the law of God, clearly; and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to him for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: Jeff Cavins’ “Great Adventure Bible Timeline,” as well as the earlier EWTN series “Our Father’s Plan” featuring Cavins and Scott Hahn, emphasize the critical importance of knowing the 14 core “history books” of the Bible to best understand the unfolding of salvation history. This reading comes from one of those books, Nehemiah, which is closely related to – and likely was originally part of – the book directly preceding it in the modern Old Testament order, the Book of Ezra.
The early chapters of Ezra tell of the first Jews to return from the Babylonian exile and the great hardships they faced in re-establishing Jerusalem and rebuilding the Temple. The latter part of Ezra and all of Nehemiah pick up the story some 75 years later, during the peak years of the Persian Empire, which Nehemiah served as cupbearer to Emperor Artaxerxes I. Nehemiah, like the prophet Daniel as well as Mordecai in the Book of Esther, was an example of a Jew who achieved important status in the land of their exile without abandoning their faith to pursue the local gods.
Literally weeping in the emperor’s presence about Jerusalem’s continued weak condition, Nehemiah received Artaxerxes’ permission to serve him as governor of Judah and rebuild the city’s walls. His successful efforts to rally his people (and thwart the opposition of wary neighbors) takes up the first half of the Book of Nehemiah. But though Judah now was stronger in physical fact, its people remained weak and lax in faith. After returning to Babylon for a time, Nehemiah came back to Jerusalem for a second stint as governor. But close on his heels was Ezra, a veteran priest and scribe, who received imperial permission to go to Palestine and reinforce the people’s understanding of and adherence to the Torah, the five books of Moses.
We read about Ezra’s efforts in this portion of Nehemiah and in the latter part of the Book of Ezra. The scene is a ceremony of renewal of Israel’s covenant with God through Moses. As King Josiah of Judah had done before the exile, Ezra reads the entirety of the Torah for hours to the people. And as Josiah had done, they wept when they realized how far they had strayed. But Ezra speaks comforting words: Do not weep! God has redeemed you! Though your ancestors had been exiled for their sins, God has given you back your Promised Land.
Josiah’s reforms, well-intentioned as they were, came too late to prevent exile. But the efforts of Nehemiah and Ezra essentially established the form of Judaism that Jesus would know some four centuries later. Let us remember and honor these faithful Israelites, for through them, the covenant people remained faithful until the Son of David came to fulfill the Old Covenant and establish the New Covenant: the Church.
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:12-30
A reading from the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians.
Brothers and sisters: Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single organ, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those parts of the body which we think less honorable we invest with the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior part, that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: Paul’s familiar analogy of the Body of Christ comes immediately after last weekend’s second reading, in which he reminds the Christians of Corinth that God gives different gifts to each person – gifts that He expects us to use to serve Him and each other. He goes to great lengths here to stress that no gift is unimportant and that all gifts – and the people who exercise them – play vital roles in God’s plan to draw all people back to Himself.
This passage also has much to tell us about the damaged but still essential unity of all human beings who call themselves Christians. The young Corinthian church was beset by division, with different groups within the congregation declaring loyalty to various local or inspirational leaders. Paul would have none of this. All who possess the saving faith in Christ are part of His Body, he declared – and no part of the body can do without the others.
The Second Vatican Council rightly declared (in its 1964 Decree on Ecumenism) that “all who are justified by faith through baptism are incorporated into Christ … brothers and sisters in the Lord.” Even though we are separated for various reasons, the Council Fathers added, the Catholic Church remains in an “imperfect communion” with other validly baptized Christians. Let all believers in Christ, no matter their denominational allegiance, consider this passage well. Do we look at each other and say “I don’t need you”? Far be it for us to take that attitude! Christ needs us all. So does the world.
Gospel: Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke. Glory to You, O Lord.
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed.
Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee, and a report concerning him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he said to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.
Meditation: This weekend’s Gospel reading reminds us of Luke’s purpose for writing his life of Christ and his method of doing so. Luke, a physician, accompanied Paul on most of his travels; Theophilus likely was a Greek-speaking Roman official they encountered along the way. Though Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels already were circulating among Christians, Luke set out both to confirm their stories about Jesus and to add to the preserved body of His acts and teachings.
It falls to Luke, who clearly spent time with the Blessed Virgin Mary preserving her memories of Jesus’ conception and birth, to give us the most complete account of Jesus’ heartbreaking return to Nazareth. Next weekend, we will read about His townspeople’s rejection of Him and their effort to kill Him; that immediately follows these verses. For now, note that He had been preaching and doing miracles elsewhere in Galilee after He returned from His baptism and temptation by Satan. He comes home, attends the synagogue, exercises His right as an adult Jew to read from and comment on the Scriptures. And, quoting Isaiah 61:1, He tells the Nazarenes something none of them had ever expected to hear: The One sent to fulfill this passage was here among them. In fact, He had grown up among them and lived with them for nearly 30 years!
Reflect on this passage during the coming week. How would you have reacted?
Close with individual prayer, followed by Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be