3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
January 23, 2022
In our Gospel today, Luke invites us into a conversation about truth and its implications. Luke tells us that he has set out to provide an orderly account in order to instruct Theophilus in the truth. Verse 4 of our Gospel reading says, “…so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received” (Luke 1:4, NABRE). .” Luke uses a Greek word that is translated “truth” in the New Revised Standard Version, but can also mean certainty, firmness, or surety. Luke’s purpose in using this Greek word is to establish the Gospel’s authority and lead us to belief in Jesus.
Based upon what Luke says, i.e., “Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us,” we might wonder whether or not Luke was seeking to establish a more accurate narrative. He was not. Rather, he was inviting the wealthier, complacent, Gentile Christians living (possibly) in Antioch of Syria, about 300 miles north of Jerusalem, to put their faith into practice more fully, and enter into a deeper encounter with Christ.
We too are being invited by Luke to do the same. However, in our postmodern church and world, people seem to have trouble defining truth. Our culture insists that everything is relative. After all, whose truth is it, and who decides? Given all the ideologies in our world, what is different about the truth that Luke presents to us?
After the introduction taken from Chapter 1 of Luke’s Gospel, our reading continues: “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” (4:14-15, NABRE). Jesus was becoming famous and known for his preaching and healing. Today we read only the first part of the account of Jesus’ rejection in his home town of Nazareth; next week we will read the second and final part. However, in order to understand today’s Gospel, we need to understand the entire story.
The town of Nazareth in which Jesus had passed thirty years of his earthly life should have been the most disposed to receive and welcome him when he came back in his official capacity as Messiah. The whole town should have flocked to him as soon as his fame as a miracle worker had reached them. However, they were indifferent, little affected by his years among them prior to his ministry. In the same way, all of Israel should have gathered around the Messiah for whom they so longed. Rather, they too rejected Jesus and his teaching, just as many people today do. This story in Luke’s Gospel serves as both a prologue to, and as well as a summary of Jesus’ public ministry. It is also a reminder to us of what it means to proclaim and witness to the Gospel.
Jesus went to the synagogue, as was his custom. There he joined in the customary prayers with his fellow citizens, neighbors, and relatives. Indicating his desire to read, he stood up and was handed a scroll containing the prophecy of Isaiah. Jesus read from Isaiah 61:1-2, as well as 58:6. After reading, Jesus closed the scroll and returned it to the attendant. Then, he said, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." The phrase, “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me," indicates that Jesus had a special relationship to God. A somewhat similar expression is addressed to the Servant of God in Isaiah 42:1: "Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased. Upon him I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations.” This phrase also recalls Jesus’ baptism, where the Father said, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (3:22b; cf. Ps 2:7).
Jesus was telling the people of Nazareth that he was the Messiah foretold by Isaiah and was proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God. Later in this chapter, Jesus will exclaim: “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent” (4:43). Luke is presenting the ministry of Jesus as fulfilling Old Testament hopes and expectations (cf. 7:22). However, for Luke, Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection are also in fulfillment of Sacred Scripture (cf. 24:25–27, 44–46).
Theme in our Life Today
In response, the congregation at Nazareth bore witness to Jesus’ irreproachable conduct and exemplary life. They even expressed praise and amazement at his words and eloquence, although they professed their inability to account for his wisdom and doctrine. But they rejected his claim to be the Messiah because they knew him for so many years as a simple, ordinary carpenter. On account of his lowly origin and estate they wanted him to show them great signs and miracles in order to convince them that he was indeed God's Anointed One. The deep-seated idea of a worldly Messiah was an obstacle for the people of Nazareth to accept Jesus as the suffering servant of Isaiah.
Their reaction to Jesus was typical of the reaction of most of Israel to Jesus. It was so persistent throughout his ministry that even his disciples wanted signs and wonders to keep them convinced of his mission as the Messiah. We see this even after the Resurrection with the account of the appearance of Jesus on the road to Emmaus (24:13-35). Jesus had to open up his disciples’ minds and hearts, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets,” about the necessity of the cross for his entrance into his glory.
To Prepare for this Sunday’s Liturgy, consider the following:
In our pluralistic society, it will not always be clear how we are to proclaim the truth. Today and next Sunday, Luke is telling us that proclaiming and witnessing to the truth is not going to be easy. There will be many who will say that we are just ordinary people. Why should they listen to us? We might be approached by some who will want some sort of proof. There will also be far too many Pilates who will say to us, “What is truth?” (John 18:38a). In the story of Jesus’ rejection in his home town, we get a glimpse at what it means to proclaim the Gospel: we should not be surprised if we are rejected, not accepted, believed, or honored. But what is different about the truth that Luke presents to us?
We are called to be disciples of Jesus and to proclaim the truth about Jesus Christ, who is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Jesus tells us that if we remain in his word, we "will know the truth, and the truth will set … [us] free.” (John 8:31b-32). So, today’s Gospel is an invitation for us to know and proclaim Jesus to the world. We do this by speaking the truth to the growing ranks of people who do not affiliate with any particular church (nones), as well as those who consider themselves to be spiritual, but not religious. We should not just keep the faith … we should share it!
That is one of the reasons why we go to Mass week after week – to be reminded of the truth and to be strengthened for our mission. What we do with that truth will be a product of our experience and the work of the Holy Spirit guiding us.