Jesus, our brother gets right to it in today’s gospel from Luke—he minces no words—he is simple and direct—the words from the prophet Isaiah “are fulfilled today in your hearing!” His message is not what the people expect—Jesus reads from Isaiah about the long-awaited Messiah and basically tells them that he is the One that they have been expecting! Talk about speaking your truth! The story today stops short of the peoples’ ultimate reaction to Jesus’ words, but we know they weren’t very accepting of what he had to say.
We are told that the omission of this part of the story in today’s gospel is helpful in order that we can join with the people hearing it to decide how we will accept Jesus’ claim. It is always good to put ourselves into any story from Scripture and check out our own reaction to it in order to make the story come alive for us. Is it asking too much to see God in another?
The first reading from the less familiar book of Nehemiah describes another liturgical setting. The people of Israel are just back from exile and they are out of practice in the ways of their God. They realize that their lives haven’t been reflective of what God asks of covenanted people and they are grieving over their unfaithfulness. Nehemiah, being the good prophet that he was gently tells them not to weep, but to learn from their mistakes and to move on. He reminds them that most of all, their God is merciful—a good message for all of us.
The point about being less than we are called to be is a good one to look at in our daily lives as we reflect on who we are as Jesus’ followers. In my personal life; I find I can at times make critical statements impulsively, not fully understanding what a loved one’s intention might be. Just because someone acted similarly in the past doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be given a chance to prove themselves once again as our God does with the exiles in today’s first reading from Nehemiah. I find in myself the tendency toward harsh tones in ways that I wouldn’t do with the public, so I must question myself about how I do, in fact, love, those closest to me.
So friends, the two liturgical settings of today’s scriptures can be compared to our own; we hear the Word, and then we must make sense of what has been proclaimed—allow the words to come alive through the power of the Spirit. The words of Scripture were always intended to come alive in each generation—the intention, I believe, is that we would in our own time need to make sense of what was handed down. Luke’s gospel is a good example of this, for all of it is a handing down of tradition as Luke wasn’t one of the original followers of Jesus.
The question we need to ask is, “Do we take the words of Scripture to heart, make them our own, or do we act like Jesus’ neighbors and say, that can’t be meant for me?” The messiah can’t come now, not in my time and certainly not in the person of my long-time neighbor! You can’t ask me to believe that! If we keep with this train of thought, then the accusations and disbelief can continue—the challenging message is meant for someone else. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if those running for office, those already in Congress, really listened to each other, tried to understand what the rhetoric in the other is really all about—is there truth there or just politics.
The challenge is there today for myself as a minister of the Word—how do I break open the words—do I take seriously my calling to wake us up to take with conviction these words of old and make them come alive, today? My job is not to just repeat the story back to you—serve up milk toast, but to give you food to chew on. Perhaps, at times, the food will be hard to digest, but hopefully, it will be a menu of many delicacies that will fill your body, minds and spirits for the week.
In this regard, a bit of a reminder—much of what I give you isn’t law, certainly not always accepted by the Church—but new insights intended to help us grow. The Spirit leads us to that—to really “chew on,” as it were, the words of Scripture, be challenged by them and ask questions and expect answers.
I am reminded of the interview that Joan Chittister did with Oprah Winfrey for her Sunday morning show, Super Soul Sunday where Joan speaks about the differences in the faith systems in our country and world. She asks Oprah, and I paraphrase; why is it, if we all believe in one God and all the major faith systems say they do; why would we expect “that-one-God” to be giving different messages? She says, it will necessarily all be about truth, goodness and Oprah adds, “Love, that is the language,” to which Joan wholeheartedly agrees. It is this kind of shared wisdom, discussion and questioning that we must expect and look for in a Church led by the Spirit of God!
The words of Scripture and especially, Jesus’ words, are timeless and are meant for every age—they do not grow old—each age is intended to take his words and apply them to the contemporary world. Paul’s words to the Corinthians today are an example of this.
Paul uses the metaphor of the body to speak of the differences within the community of believers. The church at Corinth is struggling with the different manifestations of belief within their community—those who speak in tongues, those who heal and so on. They are fighting among themselves over who is most important.
Paul clearly tells them—just like your bodies, wherein each part and function is important, so in your community of believers—the manifestations of grace are meant for a reason, for a purpose. Accept each and grow from it—just as your eyes have a function—your ears—the blood that surges through your heart and veins; in the community of believers—all the gifts are important, the small and seemingly, large. Together, we do something great!
And here it is important to remember and perhaps rephrase what Paul is saying. In his time, it was common to speak of healings, speaking in tongues, interpreting the tongues, so that in our time; we may think this doesn’t apply to us. My friends, “healing” takes many forms. We “heal” with our generous out-reach to those less fortunate; the Home Delivered Meals that our parish will again partake in this year in February, monetary donations to local, national and international organizations working to uplift peoples’ lives, cooking for our Catholic Worker homes with a parish monthly meal, through kind words and gestures on a daily basis in our daily encounters.
I came upon a new initiative as I was preparing this homily that speaks of inventive ways to “heal” in our local communities. The organization, Sandy Hook Promise, began by the parents and family members of the 26 students and teachers who were killed by gun violence three years ago are committed to the idea that their loved ones did not die in vain, and have put forth a new proposal for schools entitled, Start With Hello. The idea behind this proposal is that students would reach out to others who they perceive to be alone and isolated and simply start with greeting them, “Hello.” The program will be inaugurated February 8-12, 2016 and evidently hundreds of schools are already signed up to take part. It is thought that whatever causes someone to strike out against those they associate with has to have something to do with their feelings of alienation. The promise that Sandy Hook parents made to their children is that they will do all they can to assure that such violence will not be wreaked again on other children.
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians also addresses “speaking in tongues” and again, we may think this has nothing to do with us—we would be wrong there too. We each have the ability to, in a sense, “speak in tongues” by standing up for what we believe in, speaking the word of truth when in a group and no one else will. When we speak our bit of truth; we empower others to do the same, thus “interpreting the tongues” and growing together.
The people that Paul is writing too seem to be caught up in competition over whose gift in ministry is best rather than just doing something! Paul tells them that life is too precious to quibble over who is doing what—our task is to simply do something! None among us can do it all, even though we might feel inclined to try. Our task is to do our part. And what our part is, changes over time, but we always have a part to do! This weekend, we have a final chance to vote for our board—if you haven’t yet voted, please do!
And finally, let us pray friends, that like our brother Jesus, we will be present to do the part that God has asked us to do, and to do it in way that no one else can do, because no one else is us—we have a unique gift to give and we must give it! Amen? Amen!