Nehemiah 8:2-6, 8-10 – Today is holy to the Lord…for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength.
1 Corinthians 12:12-30 – You are Christ’s body.
Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21 – Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.
Today is holy to the Lord, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!
I assume most of us if not all of us have taken part in family reunions. At the ages we are now, we hold on to those memories of the various times we gathered with our families either around holidays, or special events such as graduations, anniversaries or even funerals. Over a meal we shared joy, humor and memories or we mourned the loss of someone, we even may have been astonished with some family news being shared for the first time. These reunions strengthened and supported our belonging to an intimate network of loving relatives and even a few cranky ones. Our readings for today highlight this human experience of a family reunion. Because, you see, to paraphrase Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: We are Christ’s family.
In our first reading we heard of the restoration of the Jewish community after several generations of living in exile. The people were then freed to gather in Jerusalem, to rebuild and to re-establish themselves according to the Covenantal prescriptions. They were told by Nehemiah, don’t be sad. You must rejoice, prepare banquets, share with your neighbors and be happy, because the Lord has set you free. And they did just that. God had fulfilled the promises made from the beginning for the people. They were gathering in a reunion as God’s family.
Now in Luke’s description of Jesus’ mission, we heard that Jesus traveled about the region of Galilee proclaiming Good News which would restore the community according to God’s original plan: to be the People of God, to live according to the spirit of the Covenant. Jesus’ reputation had spread all throughout the region. So when he arrived in his home town, the people were excited to hear what he had to say to them. They were delighted and astonished with his speaking and with the stories of his healings. Jesus was calling for a family reunion; not just with his immediate relatives, but for the whole people of Israel to come together again. He announced: today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.
But, how and what did people actually hear? We, in this retirement community, have great examples of how we hear news. Sometimes we hear only what we expect to hear, other times we hear what we long to hear and there are times when what we hear is no way near what was announced. Right?
So in our first reading the people responded with the joy of open hearts to the good news of the restoration of the nation. But that celebration was short lived as later kings chose to live according to their own desires. And in our Gospel story, Jesus’ relatives, friends and acquaintances were delighted at first. They heard what they longed to hear while living under Roman occupation, which was brutal. So when the deeper meaning of the Good News really sunk in, people realized that they would have to make certain changes in how their society was structured. And they were not ready to do that just yet. Are we ready, 2,000 years later, to make those changes?
How do we interpret life-changing invitations in relation to our daily lives? We’ve already experienced a few these past two years. Our lives certainly are different now. And there are soon to be more challenges to our daily lives in the near future. Jesus wanted to show his people and us a better way to live, a more intimate, realistic and loving relationship as the family of God coming together.
So what was Jesus proclaiming that afternoon in the Nazareth synagogue? Nothing less than that God was speaking God’s Self fully in Jesus. And what God desires is that we, his children, act godly with each other. Where there is poverty, we can alleviate it. Where there is bondage, we can liberate. Where there is injustice, discrimination, and self-centeredness, we can bring resolution, forgiveness and compassion. In other words, because we are members of the family of God, Jesus has invited us to a family reunion where we have been given the ability to act godly. And when we do, the fulfillment of God’s promises occurs. The biggest mistake we humans make happens when we refuse to recognize the Divine Spirit in the other person. That Spirit unites us as a Divine Family. The people in the Nazareth story made this mistake. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son,” they said? “Who does he think he is?” For us to internalize the Good News, we have to say, “This Jesus, whom we thought we knew, is more than Mary and Joseph’s son; he is God’s Son and our brother. And we are sisters and brothers all in this amazing family.” Then let us alleviate hunger in one another, help those stuck in any addiction to be free, guide those blind and deaf toward truth, and above all, let us be joyful, because our loving God is having a reunion banquet for everyone.