3rd Sunday Ordinary Time
27 January 2019
Deacon Les Ruhrmund
The Gospel reading opens with the first four verses of Luke’s Gospel in which he explains that while there are numerous other accounts ) about Jesus, after thorough investigation, he has compiled an accurate and orderly narrative about Jesus which he dedicates to a man called Theophilus.
We know little about Theophilus except that he was a person of high status and in all likelihood a convert to Christianity.
The reading then jumps to an excerpt from Luke chapter 4 describing the beginning of Jesus’ ministry after his baptism and 40 days in the desert, closing with Jesus’ homily in the synagogue; a startling nine words “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
In this liturgical year, Cycle C, which started with Advent, four Sundays before Christmas, we will be hearing from the Gospel of Luke on most Sundays and I thought it would be worthwhile saying something about Luke’s Gospel as we get into our stride in this new year.
Luke was born in what was the Greek-speaking city of Antioch in Syria (today the modern city of Antakya in Turkey about 20 kms northwest of the Syrian border) and he is traditionally identified with Luke whom Paul mentions as one of his co-workers in his letter to Philemon and with “Luke the beloved physician” mentioned in Colossians.
The four Gospels were written at different times, in different places, for different audiences, for different reasons and each writer presents Jesus to us in his own distinctive, characteristic way.
If we think about it it’s almost impossible for any one writer to fully capture the life of another person in a book; let alone the life of Jesus, the Son of God.
In our own times for example there are at least 12 biographies written about the life and sayings of Nelson Mandela and more than 20 about the life of Queen Elizabeth II. Each is well researched and based on true events and people with a good measure of cross referencing but each presents a different aspect of the truth of that person’s life.
Luke is clearly writing for a Gentile audience who would not have had the background of the Jewish scriptures with the expectation of the Messiah.
He stresses the blessing of salvation brought by Jesus and is concerned in his Gospel and in his sequel, the Acts of the Apostles, to show how God’s plan of salvation, began with Israel, is fulfilled in Jesus and that it embraces all God’s people, Gentiles included.
Salvation is not extended exclusively to the Israelites as it is not extended exclusively to some Christian denominations who would claim salvation only for themselves.
Luke’s original audience did not usually read his Gospel but listened to it being read aloud at a gathering of Christians, perhaps for the Eucharist; as we have gathered here.
The Gospel comes to life for us in two stages.
First, its words come to life when, as 21st century Christians, we gain insight into the original first-century meaning and context of scripture. Then, as followers of the risen Jesus, we can be inspired to apply that gospel message to our lives today.
And so what is the gospel message today?
The message is in Jesus’ words in the synagogue: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Jesus is referring to Isiah’s prophesy about the Messiah and tells them that he is the fulfillment of that prophesy; that he is the Messiah and he lays out his plan of action around which the Gospel of Luke is constructed..
Jesus brings good news to the poor and lowly, sight to the blind, freedom to those who are in bondage to sin or disease. He opens the doors of salvation to everyone and reveals the unconditional love of the Father.
Jesus is the saviour of the world. That’s the message.
Sometimes we can be a bit blasé about being Christians; we take our salvation for granted as we do tomorrow’s sunrise.
Pope Francis uses a powerful image to describe the reality of our salvation:
“It’s one thing when people tell us a story about someone’s risking his own life to save a boy drowning in a river. It’s something else when I’m the one drowning, and someone gives his life to save me!”
Jesus is our saviour.
That’s the message that should be at the centre of our very being as Christians.
And yet we so easily lose sight of this in the busyness our lives and our addiction to instant communication, email and social media dominating our daily agenda and defining our priorities.
It’s hard to stay focused on God through the day but conversely we’re hardly true to our discipleship if we put our Christian identity into a one hour slot once a week.
Being a Christian is not something we do, it’s who we are.
In the year ahead, we could try to develop the habit of keeping Jesus in our hearts and minds through the day.
The early Christians had a prayer for this purpose they called the Jesus Prayer the roots of which can be traced back to the 5th century.
The prayer is simple: “Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
Just 12 words, but if we make them part of our daily routine they can change the rhythm of our lives.
In the car and traffic, while walking or perhaps standing in a queue at the supermarket we could pray: “Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
When we’re frustrated or filled with doubt or anxiety, try saying: “Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
When we’re grappling with temptation or weighed down by our own sins or the sins of others, we can pray: “Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
Jesus has come to save us, to give us God.
In this Mass as we prepare to receive Christ in the Eucharist, we can pray deeply in our hearts: Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.