3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle C): The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me

Homily of Father Metzler from the archives:

January 24, 2016

     Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10         1 Corinthians 12:12-30     Luke 4:14-21

In today’s Gospel story at the beginning of Luke, Jesus has come home to his own town, the one in which he was raised, where everyone knows him and he knows all of them. ‘Small town’ hardly begins to describe Nazareth, since the entire village was probably about two to four hundred villagers.

We have a basic understanding of this reading. We’ve certainly listened to many inaugural addresses in our lifetime. What gets said here today, will be the plan for the days ahead. The heart of Jesus’ message and the big picture are all in this very short sermon that followed upon a reading from the book of the prophet. Even Jesus seems to consider the good news here central to identifying him as “the one who is to come” – what John the Baptist asked about him.

It seems that Jesus’ sermon couldn’t be much briefer, just one line; “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”. Perhaps that line was only the beginning of the sermon, and we miss the rest. It’s intriguing to think about where he went with his message, but surely he never strayed from speaking about opening the eyes of the blind and bringing good news to the poor and oppressed.

It was all part of the wonder Jewish law of ‘Jubilee’, the practice and obligation of restoring, every fifty years or so, land and possessions to people who had lost them. This restoration offends our capitalist notions of private ownership. But they understood that the land wasn’t really theirs but God’s, and they lived on it as God’s guests. We might say today that they were ‘stewards of God’s land’.

Jubilee is a wonderful acknowledgement of, and response to, the way we humans get things all out of whack, and before you know it, somebody has way too much, and others not nearly enough. Jubilee is the vision that makes things right again, God’s way of restoring the original balance and connectedness” among the people.

Jesus isn’t coming back home to preach a new message that offends ancient traditions, like some sort of trouble-making radical enamored of “current thinking” that he learned out there, in the wider world. In fact it was just the opposite. Jesus has just rung a bell that echoes back to their first beginnings of being God’s People.

What power the wonderful gift of reading itself has for us. While we may take our ability to read for granted (although, for many people, literacy is a great struggle), there’s reading, and then there’s reading. Public reading of the Bible today would scarcely move anyone to weep or even to look up from reading the bulletin or filling out their offertory envelope.

Don’t forget, most couldn’t read at all. Every word in the Bible was written with the expectation those who encountered it would hear it as a text read to them in a gathering of believers. This explains the lyrical, poetic, engaging style of much of the language in the Bible. But we are talking here about more than simply improving our reading-aloud skills, or becoming more dramatic, or even fixing up the sound system.

Reading, especially reading out loud, is a transformational experience, not something rote, not something to entertain us or even to expand our head-knowledge. It hopes to open us to new meanings and messages in old cherished stories and verses. We are listening for a Stillspeaking God to change our lives.

And then there’s the matter of timing, the right moment, even for Jesus Himself. Sometimes it takes the right text finding the right person at the right time in her or his life. Even Jesus saw himself differently after reading the scroll. So did those who heard him read that day

That’s the hope of every preacher. There’s always the chance that this Sunday might be the right Sunday for that man staring glumly at you from the third or fourth pew to hear the text read in a way that he cannot avoid seeing his life on its pages. Just because you can’t see him weeping doesn’t mean that he isn’t weeping inside. The word of God is not symbolic, not decorative, not safe, but light and life-giving fire.

Was Jesus ‘just’ a really good preacher, someone whose sermons moved people, at least for the moment, or was he much more than that? Jesus claimed that he was God’s agent of promised salvation. And this Salvation is often described as ‘restoring sight to the blind.” Sometimes Jesus actually made a physically blind person see, but other times he had the much more difficult task of getting the spiritually blind to open their eyes to the truth.

But, beyond this, Jesus brought a kind of restoration that goes beyond the individual to the whole people. In restoring this one ‘part’ of the body, Jesus was healing the whole community and reconstituting it as the people of God.”Open your eyes and see!” Just as regaining sight changes the whole life of a person, so opening our eyes to the truth of the gospel transforms those who “have eyes to see,” and, we might add, “ears to hear.”

It’s so easy to read this text and assume that we would have reacted differently than the crowd that day, gathered around Jesus on the Sabbath. On our Sabbath, we go to church and often hear a similar message, and yet, when we leave and return to the rest of the world that God loves, have we closed our eyes to what is really happening? Have we closed our eyes and our hearts to the reality that, the Gospel demands a very specific attitude about possessions. Those are strong words, and difficult, maybe even dangerous ones to preach and to hear.. It’s hard to believe that such a message would go over well in many communities that claim the name Christian today.

The poor, however, then and now, represent not only those in economic poverty but those who live on the margins or the outside of our communities, physically or spiritually. Jesus’ ministry, as its intentions are laid out in this passage, would reach out to exactly those who have been rejected for one reason or another.

What’s a church, what’s a follower of Jesus, to do? Have we lost our way from the course Jesus set in this inaugural address? We have buildings, budgets, staff, and members, but do we have the power of the Holy Spirit? Could you have walked into our church today and proclaimed, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” or upon us?

This story about Jesus should be a kind of ‘plumb line of Jesus’ teaching’ to which we should keep coming back to measure our work….The primary question is not so much, “What must I do to get to heaven?” It is, rather: “Who needs attention and compassion?” Whatever we take to be the heart of the Gospel will be the central shaping force in our life of faith.

Indeed, the churches have spent so much energy and time in arguing over that which is not at the heart of the gospel, or what even goes against its core message, that we have squandered resources, both physical and spiritual, for preaching and living the gospel itself. It’s not only justice that matters, or inclusion; it’s spiritual healing and wholeness: it’s salvation that we are about, and not just in the sense of making our way to heaven or persuading others to accept our beliefs.

The seeing that Jesus brings is meant for those made blind for lack of vitamin A and for those blind to the love and grace of God. St. Luke, the writer of this Gospel, tradition says was a doctor of medicine. I like to think that Luke never resigned his job as a healer. He just changed medicines. Instead of physical remedies for the body, Luke told stories with power to mend broken lives and revive faint hearts.

This is our call, too, as hearers of the Word and doers of the Word speakers of the words of new life.

People talk, and lives change. People talk, and other people are made whole. That age-old process is called Evangelization. The Spirit of the Lord is upon us, too, and we too are anointed to bring good news to the world, a world that God loves so well.

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