After the opening verses in today’s Gospel, Luke leap frogs over the chapters where we would find the Infancy Narratives, Jesus’ baptism by John, the temptations Jesus faced in the desert, and the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. The writer picks up in chapter four where we find Jesus in the synagogue on the Sabbath – it seems obvious this was his custom. No one seems surprised to see him there. What does raise some eyebrows is when he stands and reads from the scroll handed to him. He announces his mission is in continuity with Israel’s prophetic tradition. He speaks of a “year acceptable to the Lord” making reference to the Jewish tradition of Sabbath every 7th year and jubilees celebrated every 50th year – times when the land was left fallow and food stores were to be shared equally with all. A time of renewal in which debts were forgiven and slaves were freed.
Luke clearly acknowledges that he himself never saw Jesus. His gospel was written at least 50 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Yet he wants to assure his readers that what he writes is accurate and is based on the experiences of people who did know Jesus personally. At the same time he lets us know he is not writing a biography. His purpose is not to relate a chronology but to tell us the meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection for our personal lives and why we should accept and follow Jesus as our King and Lord.
People get different things out of going to church, depending, it would seem, on what they expect to get when they go there. There’s a story about an elderly couple that was walking out of church one Sunday. The wife said to the husband, “Did you see the strange hat Mrs. O’Brien was wearing?” “No, I didn’t,” replied her husband. “Bill Smith badly needs a haircut, doesn’t he?” “Sorry, I didn’t notice.” “You know John,” said the wife impatiently,” Sometimes I wonder if you get anything at all out of going to church”.
I wonder what the people who were in the synagogue that day when Jesus read aloud expected to get out of the service. Certainly they didn’t expect to see Jesus stand and read a portion of Scripture, let alone comment on it.
What did this message mean to the people in the synagogue? What does it mean to us today? It meant that day what it means today: that Jesus in the promised Messiah, the anointed one sent by God to redeem his people. It means that Jesus frees His listeners from the bonds of sin and guilt. He came then, and He continues to come each and every day, to set us free. Why do we continue to try to solve our problems by ourselves instead of turning to God?
We are all captives to something, whether it is our ministry, our role in community, favorite TV shows, certain foods especially ones that aren’t good for us, shopping or something else. All of us can awaken to God’s anointing power. It constantly inspires, enlivens and guides us. It soothes, comforts, welcomes and transforms us.
We can listen to that still small Voice of God within or in the words of a mentor and spiritual director or our comrade in community. Or we can refuse to listen, we can refuse to believe, and we can refuse to let it make a difference for us, but it is still true. The Word of God stands forever! Jesus’ one-sentence sermon that day in the synagogue was the shortest in history, but it is also one of the most powerful.
And, we believe it because we believe in the one who spoke it. We love the man Jesus and believe he is the Son of God. When Jesus taught in the synagogue, people listened but they did not understand everything, and perhaps they understand nothing at all. However, they were struck by a word, a sentence and they remembered it. They continued to think about it… Sounds like our lectio experience. That’s when the Spirit goes into action and enlightens us, at first only a little, and later on more powerfully and persuasively. That’s why it is important to spend open-ended time with the Word, with God. We may have some favorite prayers we say that someone else wrote. But how would you feel if one you call “friend” only shared with you something they’d memorized as a child or words from someone else’s pen?
We decide how to nourish our minds and feed our spirits by choosing what to read and to watch, what to reflect on. And, we decide how to protect our minds and spirits by not reading or watching what does not uplift us and make a positive impact on our lives and those we engage with in conversation. Like Scholastica and Benedict on that memorable night, we want to spend time in “holy conversation.”
Sometimes we forget how precious the Word of God is. A powerful example is in this true story. In 1964 the Romanian government released religious and political prisoners. Among them was one who had spent nearly three of his fourteen years in prison in solitary confinement. After his release, he wrote a book entitled In God’s Underground in which he describes how one day a new prisoner was brought in. The upper part of his body was in a plaster cast. When the guards withdrew, he slipped out a small tattered book secretly hidden between his skin and the plaster cast. None of the other prisoners had seen a book for years. They asked him what the book was. It was the Gospel of John. The author of the story writes that he took the book in his hand and no life-saving drug could have been more precious to him. From that day the tattered little book went from hand to hand, many learned it by heart and each day they would discuss it among themselves. That reminds us that sometimes we forget the importance of the Word of God in our lives.
Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress