Today we hear the beginning of the gospel Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21. We hear from eyewitnesses of the stories of Jesus, our ancestors in faith. In the beginning of Luke’s commentary, Jesus goes back to his homeland and back into the synagogue to pray and to read on the Sabbath.
The scroll from Isaiah from which Jesus reads is, “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, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
Imagine this scene for those who first saw Jesus and heard his voice in the synagogue. They had no idea what was to come, how he would embody those words, how he would become the message in his death and resurrection. Imagine how their hearts must have burned with hope and longing for the coming of the Messiah. In his eyes, they saw hope manifest.
Of course, the gospel is written many years after the events of Jesus’ ministry and life. So, the gospel sets up what is to come in the story. Jesus becomes this promise. He is the Anointed One. He is the freedom we have all longed for in our lives.
In the opening weeks of a new church year, perhaps we can learn to listen to the scriptures in a new way. In the Mass, when the gospel is proclaimed, it becomes the Real Presence of Jesus. This Real Presence forms us as individuals and as a church community. It is so important to our lives of faith that we listen to the Word. The Liturgical Year and the gospel proclamation at each Mass both teach us how to live in the world and how to become hungry for God, how to need God and how to serve our neighbor.
I ask you to consider reading the gospels and all the scriptures before Mass. We can’t understand the gospel from only hearing it at Mass. We must become familiar with the images, the stories, the characters, the overall arch of the story of Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection, to enter more fully into the Mass. The Real Presence of Jesus in the Mass is in the gospel proclamation, in the elements of bread and wine which becomes his Body and Blood, and in the lives of the baptized people in the pews. Read the stories, open the scriptures, and enter the scene of how the characters interact. After all, we become what we celebrate at Mass; we become the Body of Christ on earth.
The scriptures help us understand the person of Jesus Christ. I always use the example of the Good Shepherd. We can memorize Psalm 23. However, we need to have a relationship with the Shepherd. There is a difference in memorizing a story and fully knowing the Shepherd in our lives. We can hear the gospel, but it will make no difference until we know the person of Jesus Christ.
As we begin hearing the Gospel of Luke in the opening Sundays of Ordinary Time, we also know that Luke is writing for his community that is poor. He desires to lift them up in the story of Jesus. He desires healing for their lives. In this context, the opening scene of Luke’s Gospel is so important. We too, come to Mass not just for our own benefit, but to pray for the world, the poor, the prisoner, the hungry, those whose lives are the result of unjust systems.
We should all take to heart the closing line of today’s gospel, “Today, this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
God give you peace,
Fr. Ron Raab, CSC, Pastor