Year C: Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled

Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21

Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.

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. 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 and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: “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.” 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. He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. The poor are at the heart of Jesus’ ministry. Do you believe we have been anointed to care for people in conditions nobody wants to share? In what ways is tending the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed part of your faith life?
  2. If you were to proclaim, “a year acceptable to the Lord”, what about the way you live would need to change, to make your year acceptable to the Lord? Explain.
  3. This Gospel story is a clear example of how Jesus responded to his personal religious experience of baptism and his “beloved son identity”. How do you go about interpreting the “spiritual meaning” of daily events in your life, and responding to them? Give an example of how this occurs for you.
  4. Where do you feel your God given talents, spiritual gifts and personal desires come together in service of your Christian mission?

Biblical Context

Sr. Mary M. McGlone CSJ
Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21

Today’s Gospel selection begins with Luke’s literary dedication of the book and then skips to Jesus’ announcement of his mission in his hometown. In between these two passages, Luke mentioned Jesus’ baptism, the descent of the Spirit, and Jesus’ time of temptation in the desert.

Luke’s dedication gives us a good amount of information about his purpose and the context for his writing. He tells us that many have narrated the events of Jesus’ mission — although not many of those writings survived and even fewer have been recognized as presenting authentic portraits of Jesus. Luke admits that various narratives depended on eyewitnesses and says that he wants to recapitulate everything in an orderly way so that his reader can grasp the solid truth of it all. Luke addressed all of this to someone called Theophilus, a name which means “friend of God.”

After hearing what Luke took as his mission, we hear his description of Jesus’ proclamation of his own mission and vocation.

Luke’s Gospel begins with great emphasis on the Holy Spirit. In the beginning, the angel told Mary that the Holy Spirit would come upon her. Simeon recognized Jesus in the Temple by the power of the Spirit. When Jesus was baptized, the Spirit descended upon him and then led him to the wilderness. Now, when Jesus returns to Galilee, Luke says that he did so under the power of the Spirit.

Luke tells us that Jesus announced his mission among laypeople in the synagogue, not in the Temple, the religious center where the priests presided. The synagogue had de-clericalized Israel’s prayer by allowing worship to happen anywhere that people gathered to hear the Scriptures and pray.

Luke’s narrative of Jesus’ self-presentation in his hometown synagogue brims over with symbolism. When the scroll was delivered into his hands, Jesus opened the Scriptures and read from the prophet Isaiah. (He actually quoted a combination of selections from Isaiah 61:1, 58:6 and 61:2.) Jesus chose passages that described his own vocation, beginning with the fact that the Spirit of God was upon him. As we saw last week in Cana, Jesus did not see his vocation as that of a fiery prophet; when he claimed the vocation to announce a year of favor, he deliberately omitted a phrase about God’s vindication.

The phrases Jesus read were well known. But then he did the unexpected. While all eyes were on him, instead of beginning to comment on the passage, instead of telling his people that they should all hope for the day of the Lord, Jesus sat down and said, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

The time for commentaries and theologizing had come to an end. Jesus was no scribe, priest or even a prophet. While he had been in the desert, he had rejected the devil’s proposals for how to live as God’s son and servant. In the synagogue, he reintroduced himself to his people. He was anointed to teach by doing. From that moment on, he would reveal God’s will and favor by actually being glad tidings, by freeing people, by giving sight and establishing an atmosphere pleasing to God.

Today’s readings combine to demand our immediate attention and action. They remind us of the immense power of God’s living word. Today’s liturgy tells us that if we are Christians, being the body of Christ and good news to the poor is not an option but the sine qua non of our life.

Deepening Spiritual Knowledge

Spiritual Commentary
John Shea

Religious experiences entail a shift of consciousness in which we realize we are grounded in a transcendent reality. In the case of Jesus, this realization is expressed in the historical symbolism of the heavens splitting, a dove descending, and a voice speaking, “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” However, it is only after the religious experience ends and consciousness shifts back to more mundane concerns that we notice the experience did not come with a complete set of instructions. In the case of Jesus, the Spirit remained with him, but it needed to lead him into other experiences to complement his prayer revelation. It led him into the temptations for further clarity about his identity and back to Nazareth to publicly read the prophesy that would clarify his mission. Temptations and homecoming were needed to deepen his knowledge of the ripped heavens, the dove, and the voice.

This is a classic pattern of how religious experiences unfold. They begin with a consciousness of our eternal grounding in God. Aware that this grounding is unconditional, we quickly interpret it as love. But when consciousness returns to the rough-and-tumble of time, we do not know how to translate what we experienced into our conflicted minds and our concrete decision-making processes. In this context, deepening spiritual knowledge entails discovering the path from transcendent identity to historical mission.

To be more concrete, a person may have a profound awareness of communion with ultimate reality. This awareness may be triggered by nature, by the death of a parent, by the birth of a child, by the love of a woman or a man, by the quest for scientific truth, by compassionate protest on behalf of the poor and oppressed, etc. In and through these events and activities, God’s love breaks into consciousness and grasps a person.

But this depth awareness is fleeting. Ordinary consciousness, not of the Source, but of work, family, finances, etc., returns. How will the Spirit of this religious experience be courted and pursued? Will the person test out its meaning with other ideas? Will sacred books be consulted? If they are, chances are the experience will grow in significance. The meaning and implications of the experience will be deepened. The Spirit of the experience wants this to happen, but the person must cooperate.

Although this way of deepening spiritual knowledge is alive and well in contemporary life, there is another way, a backward way, so to speak, of deepening spiritual knowledge. The classic way begins with a transcendent experience and gradually understands what this experience means for ongoing life in time and history. The movement is from the sacred to the secular. The reverse way begins with direction and action in time and history and only gradually realizes this direction and action is grounded and inspired by transcendent reality. The direction is from the secular to the sacred. We discover we are responding to an immanent God we had not previously noticed.

Michael Novak tries to map this deepening spiritual knowledge in his effort to interpret business as a noble calling. He admits that, for the most part, businesspeople do not see themselves in terms of responding to a divine call.

I know from talking to and corresponding with businesspeople that many have never been asked whether they regard what they do as a calling. They don’t think about themselves that way. That has not been the language of the business schools, the economics textbooks, or the secularized public speech of our time. . .  But most of them, they say, do start mulling the idea of calling once it is raised. Some confess that they could think of what they do as a calling, even if they have not. That would not be much of a reach from what they have already been doing. It’s just one of those things that, so far, few people say. (Business as a Calling: Work and the Examined Life [New York: The Free Press, 1996] 36)

This is a crucial start to deepening spiritual knowledge: an openness to a possibility not previously considered and willing to “start mulling the idea.

“This “mulling the idea” does not immediately lead to the awareness of an eternal grounding for business striving. What it may lead to is recognizing values that transcend profits. The caricature of business as a ruthless bottom-line enterprise may be too lopsided to account for all that is going on in businessmen and women. People are engaging in their work because they have the gifts and talents for it and because it contributes in some way to the common good. Once they open them- selves to the possibility that they are struggling with deep drives for fulfillment and contribution, further reflection is inevitable.

Novak unravels the fulfillment and contribution drives. He suggests that people’s work can give them a sense of fulfillment.

But fulfillment of what? Not exactly a standing order that we place ourselves. We didn’t give ourselves the personality, talents, or longings we were born with. When we fulfill these—these gifts from beyond our- selves—it is like fulfilling something we were meant to do. It is a sense of having uncovered our personal destiny, a sense of having been able to contribute something worthwhile to the common public life, something that would not have been there without us—and, more than that, some- thing we were good at and enjoyed. (Ibid., 18)

Perhaps as we searched out meaningful work, we were responding to a call deep within us, a call that comes with the very fact of our being alive.

This type of approach backs into the sacred grounding of our secular activities. It is gradual and modest in what it comes to know. It discovers the impulses of soul and takes its time in establishing these as real. But if we stay with these impulses, we will arrive at the insight that they are grounded. We will discover the rock in a weary land and the shelter in a time of storm. Our knowledge will be deepened to include the ever-present but ever-elusive Spirit.

Spiritual Commentaries and Teachings are excerpted from The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers by John Shea © 2004 by Order of Saint Benedict. Published by Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota. Used with permission.