A reflection by Fr. Ron MacDonell, SFM, on Nehemiah 8.2-4a., 5-6, 8-10, 1 Corinthians 12.12-30 and Luke 1.1-4; 4.14-21

Today the readings speak of the power of God’s Word. In the first reading, Ezra and the Levites present the Law to the people of God who listen avidly during the whole day. They are so moved by God’s Word that they weep, perhaps because of their shortcomings before the Law. The leaders, however, urge them not to grieve but rather to rejoice and to celebrate, “for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” What is our attitude when reading God’s Word? Is our heart filled with lamentations about our past, or do we allow ourselves to embrace God’s Word for the hope and salvation that it promises?

Luke begins his gospel stating that he feels compelled to write down all that he has witnessed so that others may know about Jesus. He addresses a man named Theophilus. The Greek root of this name—theo, meaning “God,” and philus meaning “friend” or “friend of God”—suggests that Luke’s message is for all friends of God, including us. We are all, in a sense, named “Theophilus.”

We who follow Jesus are called to embrace the Spirit of the Lord. We are called to take on his agenda.

In chapter four, Luke portrays Jesus at the beginning of his ministry when Jesus sets the agenda of what he feels called to do. He returns to Nazareth and in the synagogue he reads from the Prophet Isaiah. When he finishes, he says to the listeners, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” What has he read? Jesus proclaims that the Spirit of God is upon him. He is, in fact, God’s Anointed One. The reading then lists five tasks that Jesus will accomplish: to bring good news to the poor, to give sight to the blind, to announce the release of captives, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of God’s favour. The rest of Luke’s gospel tells of the many ways that Jesus lived out this Divine and loving presence among the poor, the oppressed, the blind, the captive, and those longing for God’s favour.

We who follow Jesus are called to embrace the Spirit of the Lord. We are called to take on his agenda. We are called to recognize the poor among us in an economy that marginalizes people. We are called to promote education for those who are illiterate. We are called to welcome refugees who flee from the captivity of war. We are called to work for a more just world order that will eradicate all oppression. And finally, we are called to announce the year of God’s favour, embracing the Year of Mercy that the Holy Father, Pope Francis, has invited us to live.

This is not an easy program to follow. It means we must die to ourselves, giving of our time and money to these causes. But there is hope. St. Paul in the second reading reminds us that we are members of one body: “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” We are called to live in community. We humbly recognize our own particular gifts and those of others in our community and in the world. We can work together. We are not alone. We are one family in Christ. Let us pray, then, that we too can say as Jesus did, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.”