3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deacon Blaine Barclay
January 24, 2016

We have just heard from the book of Nehemiah, “So the Levites read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense so the people understood the reading”. (Neh. 8:8-10). One thing this first reading tells us is that people have been listening to homilies for a long time, and this same pattern continues. Reading the scriptures in the midst of the assembly of the people of God, with someone interpreting or trying to make sense of what has been read. This is what Jesus is doing in the gospel today. It tells us that in his home town of Nazareth, “He went to the Synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom”; which is to say, that he was devout, and that he studied Torah, the Law, on a regular basis. The Synagogue is as much a house of study as it is a place of worship. We also know he had been “teaching’ in the other synagogues in the area. And that the pattern of reading from the law and the prophets, followed by commentary would have also been the standard. So on one level Jesus wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary pattern of Synagogue practice.

But, when he opens his mouth and reads from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and interprets and makes sense of what he has read, we know that this is no ordinary Rabbi commenting on the scriptures of the liturgical day. What he has to say is really quite disconcerting to his audience. What is the first line of Jesus’ homily? “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”. If we knew nothing other than this first line, it still speaks volumes. Everything hinges on the text he has just read. What does the gospel say? “He stood up to read and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written.” What Jesus reads should sound familiar to us, especially this year. The text from the prophet Isaiah is the proclamation of the year of Jubilee. In the Jewish tradition every seventh year was a Sabbath or Sabbatical year, where even the land and the harvest had a chance to rest. Now, in addition to this, every seventh Sabbath year, which is every fifty years, was a Jubilee year. The year of Jubilee was announced with great liturgical fanfare on the high holy day of Yom Kippur, with the sound of trumpets announcing the great liberating yearlong festival of Jubilee. The word jubilee actually comes from the Hebrew word for trumpet, or rather a ram’s horn, sounding out the good news of Jubilee. The year of jubilee was a festival that turned the world upside down. Ever fifty years all debts were forgiven, slaves who had sold themselves into servitude were set free, land was returned to its original owner, their family or clan, neither planting nor harvesting was allowed. It was a year of immense trust in the providential care of God. It was a year of Justice and Mercy.

Listen again to our gospel from today. Imagine Jesus reading these words. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” It reads like an instruction manual for how to live the year of Jubilee, then and now.

It seem so me that we have made a good beginning here at St. Mary’s, to this our year of Jubilee. What we did for our Burundian family; was it not ‘good new to the poor, release to the captive, let[ting] the oppressed go free?’ So we are invited to continue on this path, especially during this Jubilee of Mercy. Jesus himself is the definitive arrival of Jubilee. Jesus is the face of God’s tender mercy for each human being.

Pope Francis, in his official proclamation of this Jubilee year of mercy, comments on this same text of Isaiah that Jesus has read for us today. He says, “In the gospel of Luke we find another important element that will help us to live the Jubilee with faith…. The Holy Year will bring to the fore the richness of Jesus’ mission, echoed in the words of the prophet: to bring a word and gesture of consolation to the fore, to proclaim liberty to those bound by new forms of slavery in modern society, to restore sight to those who can see no more because they are caught up in themselves, to restore dignity to all those from whom it has been robbed. The preaching of Jesus has been made visible once more in the response of faith which Christians are called to offer by their witness.” In a word, let us use the text of today’s gospel as a starting point for entering more fully into this Jubilee Year of Mercy. For as Pope Francis also says in this same proclamation, “The mercy of God [is] the beating heart of the Gospel”. “Wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of Mercy”. “’Merciful like the Father’ is the motto of this Holy Year.”