Jesus frees His people from unjust burdens

  • January 15, 2010
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Jan. 24 (Nehemiah 8:2-4, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 12:12-30; Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21)

How do people react to traumatic or catastrophic events in their lives? There are many ways to react but one of the most common is the attempt to “remake oneself.” This can take the form of a complete change in values or lifestyle in an effort to make a complete break with the past and all of its associations. Sometimes the “new” person is difficult to recognize.

But another method of remaking is to return to whatever one believes to be bedrock or fundamental values. This sort of return to basics can result in spiritual renewal and a fresh start. But people often carry it to extremes with less than happy results in the form of rigidity, narrow-mindedness and moral harshness.

The Jewish nation had been in Babylonian exile for 50 years. They endured the trauma of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple — the very dwelling place of God — as well as the humiliation of being a conquered and captive people. During their sojourn in Babylon they asked over and over: why? How could God have abandoned us and His temple? There was a growing conviction among the exiles that they were being punished for their transgressions against the law — idolatry, injustice and spiritual laxity.

After their return to Jerusalem, Nehemiah, Ezra and others found what they believed to be the solution: a return to an unwavering and disciplined observance of the law. In this passage, the law is read out to the assembled people who weep when they realize how far they have fallen short of God’s standards.

The law is at best only a dim memory in their minds and maybe even far less. But the words of the prophet are comforting: enough of the tears — rejoice and celebrate. Finding the right path is a cause for joy and celebration, not self-castigation and gloom. The law is not intended as a burden but as a delight and something that brings people closer to God and to one another.

Paul’s image of the unity and interdependence of the body provides a solution to the naked individualism, competition and selfishness of our own time. In his explanation of the interdependence of the parts of the body Paul insists that no part of the body is unimportant or inferior to the others.

This is a metaphor for the Christian community — the body of Christ. In the kingdom and world of Jesus Christ there are no “American idols” and no one is voted off the island — all are of equal worth and importance. When all of these diverse expressions of the body work in harmony for the common good great things happen for everyone. As members of that body we simultaneously possess nothing and possess everything. 

Luke’s introduction to his Gospel is typical of the Greek historians of his age: wordy and eloquent and addressed to a fictitious literary character. In this case Theophilus — which means “lover of God” — can be anyone who picks up the Gospel with an open heart and mind. We are invited to read on and make up our own minds about the truth of the faith in which we have been instructed. The first real public appearance in Luke’s Gospel takes place in the synagogue of his home town. Unlike the other Gospels, Luke’s Jesus reveals Himself as the fulfilment of the prophecies of Third Isaiah. Not only that, His coming is the visitation of God and the occasion of wonderful liberating graces.

We can imagine the tension in the synagogue as He claimed that the words of prophecy were fulfilled in Him. This claim must have sounded ludicrous and delusional to many of His listeners and they would have been so had He not confirmed that claim with deeds of power and by rising from the dead. All of Isaiah’s promised gifts of healing, sight, liberty and glad tidings were expressed in Jesus’ encounters throughout His ministry. Not only did He free people from their own burdens but from those imposed by an unjust social, political and economic order.

Jesus embodies in every aspect of His life the nature of the God for whom He speaks: compassion, mercy, forgiveness and inclusivity. As those who claim to be His followers we must strive to do likewise.