So as to be more available to the graces of the readings, imagine
Jesus’ standing up in his hometown synagogue, reading from one of the scrolls.
When finished, he returns the scripture to the attendant and sits down once
more. Everybody knows him and his family, but he shocks them with his words.
They shake their heads; some get up and leave in some agitation.
Luke’s Gospel does not present an “Epiphany” scene such as in Matthew’s Gospel.
The readings today do have that kind of flavor though. There is a dramatic
presentation of the presence of God in the midst of the people. To some,
this insertion, this intervention, brings out fear and to others anger.
We pray these days to listen with more than our ears and more
deeply than our minds. Jesus has come to speak to our unfreedoms, our blindnesses,
our deeper-than-we-know desires for God’s love. Allowing anybody, even God
to come across our protected thresholds is dangerous and we too can feel
that fear and even an anger about our having such deep needs.
We can pray for a spirit of excitement that each of our days is “holy” because
the Lord is more present to us than we are to ourselves. “Today” is used
several times in Luke’s Gospel. The angels speak this word to the shepherds,
Jesus announces that “today” salvation has come to Zachaeus, who has climbed
down out of his tree. Today is holy, a sacrament, an Epiphany, a Jesus-wink.
We pray, not to seize the moment, but hear it, see it, taste it for what
We hear in our First Reading of a “Liturgy of the Word” as related
by the prophet Nehemiah. The scribe Ezra begins reading out loud from the
Pentateuch to the men, women and young people. They are finally back in Jerusalem
from their being in exile. This “Liturgy of the Word” takes most of the day.
Their response at first is fear and regret. They fall down to the ground,
but their leaders encourage them to celebrate their return and their being
still the “People of God.” They are a nation once more and back in the land
of the covenantal promises. This reading is their story and rejoicing in
the God of that story is their personal and cultic strength.
Luke, in today’s gospel, presents Jesus involved in a kind of “liturgy of
the Word” as well. It is also a kind of “coming-out party” or Epiphany. There
is a reading and a response to what is being read. Jesus states simply after
his reading from the Prophet Isaiah that he is the fulfillment of the prophecy.
He is the “Waited For.”
The Reading outlines for the people, all that Jesus has come to do. It will
be his daily duty; his life’s plan which is all about his being savior.
By now many of our New Year’s Resolutions have encountered our old-year’s
desolution. As it has been said, “There’s many a slip between the cup and
the lip.” Supposing, composing, proposing are all wonderful human activities.
Living, doing, going out there, are more difficult. Being in our actions
what we would like to be in our thoughts or plans, is where spirituality
breathes. What we actually do is not who we are, but is a reflection of a
part of our hearts and spirit.
It has also been said that after Bethlehem, there is nothing new. To understand
and accept all that is explicit and implied in Christ’s birth renders anything
else as redundant. This is a bit exaggerated. There are so many elements
of Jesus’ life, which are contained in the journey to and from Bethlehem.
There is the simplicity, poverty, obedience, trust, and rejection, being
sought for ill and for good.
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus explains what he is going to do and it is
early in Luke’s narrative of Jesus’ life. He reads from a passage from Isaiah
which foretells the Messiah, and then in word and deed he fulfills the prophecy,
the divine plan. This is his perfection and he does it every day and every
moment of his time and eternal now.
Our perfection has to do with living with the “slip: between the cup and
the lip.” Our “grasp” does not exceed our “reach.” Each day
for us is holy, because we are being saved from the “hell” of our own disappointment,
frustrations and ego-fulfillment. We, like the people in the First Reading,
can fall down in fear, because we cannot live Jesus’ words perfectly. More
than that, we do not live perfectly our own words. We make promises, and
even vows of love, reverence, acceptance, and we don’t do them perfectly
every day. Every day is holy, remember, because we are being saved and blest
each moment by the God who continues an Epiphany, a “coming-out” of mystery
I enjoy witnessing the vows of two people getting married. They vow, in front
of hundreds of people, and me, the priest, they will love, honor, cherish,
care for and all this within each day of health or sickness, good times or
bad. What a wonderful proposal, but I know secretly that before the wedding
cake is cut, some little thing will dent the perfection of that loving circle.
The perfection for us all is in the every-day trying again. Proposing, saying
and then doing something of virtue. We do this with full awareness that we
won’t “reach” it. Living with the “slip” is our perfection as individuals
and Church, because Jesus is still freeing, giving sight and offering the
grace of being saved from the “hell” of it all.
“Look up at the Lord with gladness
and smile;your face will never be ashamed.” Ps. 34, 6