Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jan. 23)

A few weeks ago, we heard the angel appear to the shepherds in the field and say: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (2:10).

Good news is something we all want to hear. So much attention these days is given to the bad news that the good can easily get lost or forgotten. Most people find good news uplifting and a boost to joy. The readings for this Sunday remind us of the good news we have received.

The Gospel begins with the opening four verses of the Gospel According to St. Luke. The simple but highly important sentence sets forth the Evangelist’s plan in presenting the Gospel. He wants the reader, identified as Theophilus (who may not be an actual person but an allegorical one; the name translated means “friend of God”), to “realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.” He presents the Gospel in an orderly fashion, “after investigating everything accurately anew.”

One, but not the only, aspect of the term “gospel” is “good news.” St. Luke hands on the Gospel in written form. He recalls words and events from Jesus or about Jesus. The presentation invites us to walk with Jesus on our journey of life as we remember his journey. The time we spend with him on this journey will allow us to hear the good news and to embrace it in joy.

The passage for the liturgy then moves forward a few chapters to the opening of the public ministry in Chapter Four. Most, if not all, of the intervening passages we’ve heard the past two months. The first two chapters deal with the preparations and recalling of the births of Jesus and John. The third and the beginning of the fourth recall the genealogy, the baptism of Jesus and the temptation in the desert. Jesus now commences his public ministry.

He begins in his home town of Nazareth at the synagogue there. When he stands up to read, he is given the Isaiah scroll. He then deliberatively finds the particular passage he wants to read. It is this:

“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.”

After rolling up the scroll and returning it to the attendant, Jesus makes an announcement: “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Good news. The Isaian passage that Jesus reads is one that pointed to the time of salvation and deliverance. Over time this passage helped prepare Israel for the coming Messiah. The presence of the Spirit is integral to this time.

Two weeks ago, we heard the account of Jesus’ baptism. John prepared the way, saying Jesus was the one “who will baptize with spirit and fire” (3:16). We also heard of the Holy Spirit descending on him in the form of a dove and the voice from heaven saying: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (3:22).

Just before the current passage, St. Luke reminds us that Jesus, after the temptation experience, “returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit” (4:14). Now he reads, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me” (4:18). This is a signal to those who will hear. The very first words he speaks publicly give indication that salvation is at hand.

The rest of the passage describes what the Messiah will offer: glad tidings to the poor, liberty to captives and sight to the blind. As we continue to hear the Gospel proclaimed we will hear numerous events, stories and encounters of Jesus where these are manifest.

Yet we should also consider them as a group. They all signal God’s saving activity among his people. The saving word is accomplished by Jesus. Taken together we are reminded that God’s saving activity is not limited to these examples. The deliverance he promises is wide and vast. He comes for anyone and all who are troubled, afraid or bound.

Finally, the Messiah will proclaim “a year acceptable to the Lord.” The expression marks not so much a calendar year but a period. The deliverance that God offers in Jesus will be eternal. The expression also has some jubilee year overtones where mercy is paramount and expressed in the relief of debt and freedom for slaves. All this is good news, great news.

One of the important aspects of our spiritual lives is “remembrance.” We express this liturgically in the celebration of the Mass. Jesus himself tells us, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Liturgically this has a specific meaning and connotation of making something that happened in the past present to us in the now. In a more general sense, hearing the Gospel proclamation today brings to our memory the good news of God’s abiding presence.

As St. Luke’s presentation of the Gospel unfolds this year, we will continue to hear of the Spirit and his presence in the life of Jesus until that same Spirit is poured out on the church in St. Luke’s second volume, Acts of the Apostles, establishing forever the “year acceptable to the Lord.”

Through the Spirit, Jesus continues to proclaim the good news, to bring glad tidings to the poor, liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind. And that is good news for us, today.

***

Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.