Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 1:1-14, 4:14-21
The Book of Nehemiah furnishes the first reading for this weekend. At one time, in the Hebrew editions of the Bible, this book and the Book of Ezra formed one volume. In time they were separated, and so they remain today.
Although some Old Testament books tell the history of the people of Israel, all are chiefly concerned with inspiring God’s people to be faithful and eager in their religious practice. In this reading, Ezra, who was a priest, called together men, women and children old enough to comprehend precisely to this end. He admonished this gathering to listen carefully to the Scripture.
After hearing the reading of the Scriptures, the people in this audience affirmed their faith. Ezra continued by interpreting what he had read.
Finally, Ezra and Nehemiah called the people to rejoice — for cause. God had spoken to them. God was guiding them.
For the next reading, the liturgy presents St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. The Christian community in Corinth especially challenged Paul. Corinth was an important commercial center, actually one of the major markets and distribution centers in the empire. Moreover, it was a very large city.
Troubling for Paul was not that Corinth was large and rich, but that its size and wealth produced an atmosphere in which vice and greed reigned supreme. Indeed, throughout the Mediterranean world, in which license and exploitation were commonplace, Corinthians had the reputation of being exceedingly licentious. The evils in this atmosphere were contagious, enticing many Christians.
In addition, Corinthian Christians vied with each other within the Church. They quarreled with each other. They schemed against each other. They gossiped about each other. They toyed with pagan practices and customs.
Paul constantly and energetically called the Corinthian Christians away from the temptations the pagan environment pressed upon them. In particular, he scorned the competitiveness among the Christians.
In this reading, Paul insists that all the baptized are in the body of Christ, however, the body has many members. Each has a vocation.
Finally, St. Luke’s Gospel supplies the last reading. Midway in this reading, the Gospel directly addresses Theophilus, using the honorific “Your Excellency.” Luke’s Gospel seemingly was written for one person and to one person.
Scholars debate if this person had the name of Theophilus, or was it the Gospel’s title, since “Theophilus” in Greek means “friend of God.” In any case, the person apparently enjoyed some prestige, hence the use of the words “Your Excellency.”
In this reading, Jesus appears in the synagogue of Nazareth to explain the mission of salvation. Salvation, unfolding in Jesus, was the gift of God’s love, the final chapter in the long record of the merciful deeds of God among God’s people.
The Church has celebrated Christmas, the feast of the birth of Jesus, as well as the feasts of the Epiphany of the Lord and the Baptism of the Lord. In the lessons of these great liturgical events, the Church has introduced us to Jesus. It has identified Jesus. He is the son of Mary, so Jesus was a human. He is the Son of God. He is the Redeemer.
Now the Church begins to tell us about salvation and about how we personally should respond to salvation.
First, Corinthians sets the stage. If we have accepted Christ into our hearts, we belong to God. Each of us has a personal vocation, although we may consider this term too lofty or too suggestive of a religious life. Regardless of occupation or circumstance, our vocation is to follow, and to reflect, Christ.
God provides for us in this effort. He assists and strengthens us. He never forsakes us, but we are free. We must decide to be loyal.
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