Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 1:1-14, 4:14-21
The Book of Nehemiah furnishes the first reading for this weekend.
Although some Old Testament books tell the history of the people of Israel, mentioning many aspects of life, such as famine, plenty, disease and war, all are chiefly concerned with inspiring God’s people to be faithful, but also 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 Letter to the Corinthians. The Christian community in Corinth especially challenged Paul. Corinth was an important commercial center, one of the major markets and distribution centers in the Roman Empire. It was a center of wealth and, moreover, of greed.
Even in the very immoral culture of the time, it was regarded as the utter capital of lust and sexual excess. Corinthians had the reputation of being exceedingly licentious.
Troubling for Paul was not that Corinth was large and rich, or that its size and wealth produced an atmosphere in which vice and selfishness reigned supreme. The evils in this atmosphere were contagious, enticing many Christians.
The everlasting temptation to see all in material terms, or of physical satisfaction, was bad enough, but Corinthian Christians vied with each other within the Church, quarreling with each other, scheming against each other, and gossiping about each other. They toyed with pagan practices and customs.
Paul constantly called the Corinthian Christians away from the pagan environment pressing upon them. In particular, he scorned the competitiveness among the Christians.
In this reading, Paul insisted that all the baptized are in the Body of Christ, however, the Body has many members. Each is unique, a gift from God.
St. Luke’s Gospel supplies the last reading. Midway through this reading, the Gospel directly addresses Theophilus, using the honorific “most excellent.” Luke’s Gospel seemingly was written for this one person.
Scholars debate if this person had the personal name of Theophilus, or was it a title or description, since “Theophilus” in Greek means “friend of God.” Regardless, the person apparently enjoyed some prestige, hence the use of the term, “most excellent.”
Jesus appeared in the synagogue of Nazareth to explain the mission of salvation, speaking in some detail.
Salvation, unfolded in Jesus, was the result 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 of the Baptism of the Lord. In the lessons of these great liturgical events, the Church introduced us to Jesus. It identified Jesus. He is the son of Mary, so Jesus was a human. He is the Son of the loving 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. Luke continues the message. 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.
Despite different occupations or circumstances, our vocation is to follow, and to reflect, Christ.
God provides for us in this effort, assisting and strengthening us. He never forsakes us, but we are free. We personally must decide to be loyal.
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