“Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!” cry Ezra, Nehemiah and the Levites. The reading from the Law, the Torah, prompted the sound of rejoicing. The great rejoicing is based on the Lord’s presence among His people in several ways.
First, they are celebrating the Day of the Lord, the Sabbath. The day commemorates the day of rest following creation. The day is set aside not only as a day of rest where the people imitate the Lord’s rest but also a day of praise and rejoicing — rejoicing at the Lord’s goodness to us in creating us and giving us all that He created.
Second, the presence of the Lord is seen in His word which is read to the people. In this case the reading is from the Torah or law. The law represents the covenant between God and His people. The law was seen as a gift from the Lord to help maintain good relationships between God and His people and among the people themselves.
Third, God is seen as being present when his people were assembled. He is with them always, which is cause enough for rejoicing. This is highlighted in the particular context of this passage. A couple hundred years later, the people are still recovering from the shock and devastation wrought by the Babylonian Exile. They recall the destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple and the deportation of the people to Babylon.
The exile lasted approximately 50 years (two generations). After the return it took some time to rebuild Jerusalem and even longer for the Temple. God is present through all these hardships. He never abandons His people, and this is cause for rejoicing.
God’s abiding love is seen in His gracious care for His people: in creation, in the covenant and the holy city. But more is in store for Israel as they learn to wait for the coming of the Messiah. The Messiah will reveal God’s love in its full abundance and bring the relationship they have with Him and with each other to a whole new level. Jesus is the longed for Messiah and He fulfills the hopes and desires of Israel and of all humanity. And so the call for rejoicing grows even stronger.
The Gospel passage for today’s Mass celebrates the fulfillment of these hopes and desires. The passage is a combination from two sections of Luke’s Gospel. The first portion is the opening words of the Gospel; the second is the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus. (The passage in between these two deal with the Infancy Narratives, John the Baptist and the Baptism of Jesus, which were proclaimed during the Christmas season).
St. Luke opens his gospel account with at statement of purpose. He defines what he is writing and why. He is providing the reader with an “orderly” account of all that has been “fulfilled among us.” He does this after investigating “everything accurately anew.” The purpose of his writing is so that we “may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.”
The passage then jumps ahead to the opening of the public ministry. Here Jesus enters the synagogue and reads from the Isaiah scroll. He finds then reads the passage: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
Finishing the reading Jesus proclaims, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus is the fulfillment of all human hopes and desires. He is the fulfillment of humanity. The joy and gladness proclaimed in the Old Testament reaches its climax with the advent of Christ.
The peace that Jesus comes to establish is an interior peace that the world cannot offer. His peace comes through His proclamation of the Gospel; His gift of freedom; and His gift of healing and life accomplished through His passion, death and resurrection. The peace He offers is a contentment and serenity that no force in the world can rob or destroy. His life is our peace. The presence of God is perfectly revealed in Him and His presence is with us always.
St. Paul speaks of this in terms of the body. He writes: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were given to drink of the one Spirit.” The presence of God dwells within us as the one body of Christ. Through His presence we are made one with God and with each other.
Surely there are many parts of the body as St. Paul says, but they are all united in one. He writes: “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.” He speaks here of life in the Church, the Body of Christ. “Some people God has designated in the church to be, first apostles, second, prophets; third, teachers; then mighty deeds; then gifts of healing, assistance, administration, and varieties of tongues.”
Today and every day we hear the call to rejoice. We rejoice in God’s love for us. We rejoice in the fullness of His mercy shared with us in Christ Jesus. We rejoice in His abiding presence through the Holy Spirit. We rejoice in His Word. We rejoice in His life that is now ours.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.