The setting of the first reading (Nehemiah 8:2-10 omitting long lists of names), is back in Jerusalem after the Exile but before the Temple or any synagogue is usable. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah together give us information about the restoration of the physical and political structure, and of the religion of Jerusalem and of the whole of Judah. Today we hear of Ezra the great religious leader who brought the people back to respect the Law of God. He solemnly reads from the scroll of the Law; the people worship the Lord present in the words of the Bible; they listen and it is interpreted to them. The Bible is a deep and ancient piece of literature as well as being the Word of God Who remains a mystery to all; some interpretation is needed because of the time and culture difference between that of the original and of the time of its reading; it is also necessary in order to grasp how it might apply to the current situation – the same might be said about this reading and us today; what will a preacher say, what does the Law of God mean for us in our time and situation?
In the second reading (1 Cor 12:12-27 verses 15-26 might be left out) we hear of Paul’s image of the church as a body; whatever the word might mean today, at that time and in their culture it is more likely that the ‘body’ is the way the reality of the whole person is present in the world and to others; the body of the community of believers has many parts seemingly quite diverse, but they make up one presence of Christ; present in us, in our particular church and in the worldwide Church. We each have our part to play in maintaining and developing this presence of Christ in our world. This is different from His presence in the sacred words of the Bible, recognised by the hearers in the first reading though the Word of God in the Scriptures plays an important role in our developing faith.
In the gospel passage for today, we jump awkwardly from the stylised introductory verses (chapter 1 verses 1- 4) to beyond the infancy narratives, the baptism and the temptations to (chapter 4 verses 14-21). In the introduction Luke indicates that after research, he has a plan for his writing to highlight what he thinks is the true message of the Good News. We hear that Jesus in the synagogue of his home town reads from the scroll of the Prophet, Isaiah (61:1f), and amazes the people by saying: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” He is announcing the year of favour. It is noticeable that in Luke’s the quotation is from the LXX (the Greek Septuagint version of the Bibe), with the use of ‘the blind’ where the Hebrew Masoretic Text has ‘the prisoners,’ and (according to some manuscripts) with ‘he opened’ rather than the Hebrew original’s ‘he unrolled’ the book. Also in Luke’s text a line from Is 58:6 is included in the quotation and the last two poetically joined lines at the end of that passage in Isaiah 61 are missed out, namely “and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn.” Because elsewhere Luke is generally very accurate in quoting the LXX, it may be that this part of the story about Nazareth is taken by him from a previous piece of writing or from oral tradition. Because the section read today is not the whole story (we shall hear the rest of it next week), the significance of what we hear today is different from what it would otherwise be. Here, his preaching in the synagogue must be taken as an upbeat affirmation of the start of a new era for us, an era of favour with God, which will elevate us and bring us release, freedom and renewed vision.