Third Sunday in ordinary time

Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-11; 1 Corinthians 12:12-30; Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21

Proclamation is provocation.  When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC over 55 years ago, he inspired generations of people to devote their lives to the cause of racial justice.  When Our Lady of Guadalupe asked Juan Diego, “Am I not your mother?” she encouraged him to complete the mission that she gave him.  When St. Oscar Romero told the soldiers in El Salvador, “In the name of God, and in the name of his suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I beg you, I implore you, I order you in the name of God, stop the repression!” he was assassinated.

Our readings today proclaim and provoke.  In our first reading, Nehemiah proclaims the word of God—the Torah—to his people and they weep in response.  In our second reading, St. Paul proclaims an image of the church as the Body of Christ, and he provokes the community at Corinth to examine how healthy that body really is.  In our gospel reading, Jesus proclaims the words of the prophet Isaiah and claims them as his mission.  Those words are first welcomed, but when Jesus explains what they mean people don’t want to hear them!

Nehemiah had been the cupbearer to the Persian King Artaxerxes I in the 5th century BCE after Persia supplanted Babylonia as the regional power.  The king allowed Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem as governor to lead the rebuilding of the city’s walls, their first line of defense.  But Nehemiah knew that the faith of the people of Jerusalem also needed to be rebuilt.  When his colleague, the priest Ezra read the Torah to the people, they were both inspired and convicted by the word of God:  inspired because it reminded them of their covenant with God and convicted because they were reminded of how unfaithful they had been and how they needed to change.

Paul, addressing the many divisions in the church of Corinth that he founded, asked the people to recall their interdependence and need to both respect their diversity and work even harder for unity.  This is a timeless lesson, both inside and outside the church.  The recent encounter between several different groups of demonstrators on our National Mall in Washington, DC and a snippet from a video of a high school student and Native American elder that went viral led to a round of recriminations and counter-recriminations.  We can only hope that it will lead to a deeper reflection on the dangers and the power of social media, our biases and presuppositions and the need for real listening, consideration and the virtues of prudence and justice in dealing with our conflicts.

Today’s gospel reading from Luke is a little odd. It starts with a few verses from the very beginning of the book.  Here the author “sets the table,” explaining his reasons for writing.  Then we skip several chapters that cover Jesus’ miraculous conception, birth and his childhood as well as his baptism and his 40 days of fasting and testing in the desert.  Finally, returning to Galilee “in the power of the Spirit,” he comes to his hometown of Nazareth and proclaims in the synagogue the words of the prophet Isaiah that will be his personal “mission statement.”  Anointed by the Spirit of the Lord, he would proclaim and word and action good news to the poor, liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom for the oppressed.

It sounded like good news.  Everyone in that synagogue was happy to hear it…until Jesus explained it!  (Stay tuned next Sunday for the rest of the story.) Proclamation is provocation.  +