Third Sunday of Ordinary Time: Scripture on Scripture

It happens all the time. Jews do it. Muslims do it. Christians do it. A group of people, gathered to worship the living God, have someone read to them

Jan 26, 2019

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year C)
Readings: Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10
1 Corinthians 12:12-30
Gospel: Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21

It happens all the time. Jews do it. Muslims do it. Christians do it. A group of people, gathered to worship the living God, have someone read to them from anold book. Their reasons are the same: the ancient writings speak of how their ancestors in the faith experienced the One who started and sustains the world and who took initiatives to make them a people.

Further, they acknowledge that they are still in a living relationship with that God,who deserves their thanks, listens and responds to their petitions, and takes profound interest in what they do with their lives. People read the old book to know who they are and what they are doing.

The First and Third Readings for this Sunday highlight that recurring situation.We have the priest Ezra addressing the people of Judah some 80 years after the return from the Babylonian captivity, still working to restore a common life around a reconstructed Temple and Holy City.

He is reading an updated version of the people’s constitution the Law, or Torah. In the Gospel reading, we hear the voice ofLuke himself introducing his version of the story of Jesus, a fresh edition requiredby the community of his day (which willinclude a “part two” the Acts of the Apostles telling the story of the early Church).

Further, one of the episodesLuke chooses for special treatment is thescene of Jesus’ homecoming in the synagogue of Nazareth, where Jesus himself,paralleling Ezra, reads from Scripture andasserts its relevance for “today” the present moment of his community of listeners, and, for Luke, the present momentof his readers, then and now.This is one of those occasions whenScripture speaks of Scripture, when theBible becomes a kind of user’s manualabout itself.

The scene in Luke is stunning. Awellknown member of this small village (population, archeologists estimate,around 150), a craftsman, returns with areputation for healing and acting like an old time prophet.

He shows up at the synagogue, opens the scroll of Isaiah to the place we call chapter 61, reads the first person statement of a prophetic figure claiming to be anointed and sent by theLord for a work of liberation and healing,and boldly applies that passage to him self.

Thus Ezra, Jesus and Luke — each inhis own way, shows us what our Biblereading at liturgy is all about: we read theancient writings because they speak to usof our relationship to God and to one another — today.Then there is the passage from Paul. Hewrote a letter addressing the needs of aparticular Greek community in the 50s ofthe first century.

The unity of the Christian community in Corinth was threatened in several ways by rivalries, bydualistic thinking, by neglect of the poor.Paul responded to this particular set ofcrises so eloquently that this “occasional”letter eventually became recognised asinspired Scripture, capable of addressingany community, any time, about the essentials of Christian unity.

In the passage read today, we hear thefamous body image. The life of the Spiritthat the Church shares makes it an organism analogous to any other living body.Like the limbs and organs of a humanbody, the members of the body of Christ(the Church) each have a special andneeded role to play, whose purpose is tobuild up that body. Apart from that body,the particular member is as significantas a 165-pound eye sitting in the grass,splendid to behold but connected to nothing.Paul’s image of Church as body helpsus think about the Church's current callfor a “preferential option for the poor.”

That is a reflection of what happens innature all the time. Recently, for example, when I had an infected thumbnail,my body spontaneously and consistentlyfavoured that small member; I didn’t haveto be persuaded to make a “preferentialoption” for my thumb. If we are tempted,in the context of both Church and state, toneglect the poor among us, it may be because we have lost touch with the ways inwhich we are, in fact, one body. Restoringthe sense of connection may have something to do with the mission of liberationand healing that Jesus would continuethrough us.

Thus Paul joins Ezra (and the Chronicler who writes of Ezra), Jesus and Lukein teaching us why we read old writingswhen we gather to worship (even at timeswhen “Water Gate” [Neh 8:1] does nothave a special, accidental, resonance). --By Prof Emeritus Fr Dennis Hamm, SJ

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