Sunday, January 27, 2013

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Commentary on the Gospel

Today's Gospel reading is taken from Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21. Luke's gospel narrative is unique in a few ways. First, he was not one of Christ's twelve apostles, but instead was a later disciple of St. Paul. His gospel is often referred to as the Marian Gospel because of the rich Marian narratives it contains. Biblical theologians believe Luke gathered these stories directly from Mary, the Mother of Christ. For example, this evidence is seen in the annunciation and visitation accounts in Luke 1:26-39 and Luke 1:39-57. Incidentally, these two scenes are the source for the prayer of the Hail Mary.

Here is a video presentation of the passage. I have also included commentary from the Navarre Bible Study Bible to illustrate the depth and richness of these commentaries. They include passages from the Church Fathers, other saints, the documents of Vatican II and the writings of popes. These commentaries are available through an email subscription and Google group membership at Daily Word.


1-4. St. Luke is the only evangelist to give his book a preface or prologue. What is usually described as the "prologue" to St. John is really a summary of what the Gospel contains. St. Luke's prologue, which is very short and very elegantly written, describes why he has written the book--to provide an orderly, documen- ted account of the life of Christ, starting at the beginning. These verses help us realize that Jesus Christ's message of salvation, the Gospel, was preached before it came to be written down: cf. the quotation from Vatican II's "Dei Verbum", 19 (p. 21 above). God, then, wanted us to have written Gospels as a permanent, divine testimony providing a firm basis for our faith. "He does not tell Theophilus new things, things he did not previously know; he under- takes to tell him the truth concerning the things in which he has already been in- structed. This he does so that you can know everything you have been told about the Lord and His doings" (St. Bede, "In Lucae Evangelium Expositio, in loc."). 

2. The "eyewitnesses" the evangelist refers to would have been the Blessed Virgin, the Apostles, the holy women and others who shared Jesus' life during His time on earth. 

3. "It seemed good to me": "When he says 'it seemed good to me' this does not exclude God's action, because it is God who prepares men's will [...] . He dedi- cates his Gospel to Theophilus, that is, to one whom God loves. But if you love God, it has also been written for you; and if it has been written for you, then ac- cept this present from the evangelist, keep this token of friendship very close to your heart" (St. Ambrose, "Expositio Evangelii Sec. Lucam, in loc."). 

16-30. For the Jews the Sabbath was a day of rest and prayer, as God comman- ded (Exodus 20:8-11). On that day they would gather together to be instructed in Sacred Scripture. At the beginning of this meeting they all recited the "Shema", a summary of the precepts of the Lord, and the "eighteen blessings". Then a passage was read from the Book of the Law--the Pentateuch--and another from the Prophets. The president invited one of those present who was well versed in the Scriptures to address the gathering. Sometimes someone would volunteer and request the honor of being allowed to give this address--as must have hap- pened on this occasion. Jesus avails Himself of this opportunity to instruct the people (cf. Luke 4:16ff), as will His Apostles later on (cf. Acts 13:5, 14, 42, 44; 14:1; etc.). The Sabbath meeting concluded with the priestly blessing, recited by the president or by a priest if there was one present, to which the people answered "Amen" (cf. Numbers 6:22ff).

18-21. Jesus read the passage from Isaiah 61:1-2 where the prophet announces the coming of the Lord, who will free His people of their afflictions. In Christ this prophecy finds its fulfillment, for He is the Anointed, the Messiah whom God has sent to His people in their tribulation. Jesus has been anointed by the Holy Spirit for the mission the Father has entrusted to Him. "These phrases, according to Luke (verses 18-19), are His first messianic declaration. They are followed by the actions and words known through the Gospel. By these actions and words Christ makes the Father present among men" (John Paul II, "Dives In Misericordia", 3).

The promises proclaimed in verses 18 and 19 are the blessings God will send His people through the Messiah. According to Old Testament tradition and Jesus' own preaching (cf. note on Matthew 5:3), "the poor" refers not so much to a particular social condition as to a very religious attitude of indigence and humi- lity towards God, which is to be found in those who, instead of relying on their possessions and merits, trust in God's goodness and mercy. Thus, preaching good news to the poor means bringing them the "good news" that God has taken pity on them. Similarly, the Redemption, the release, which the text mentions, is to be understood mainly in a spiritual, transcendental sense: Christ has come to free us from the blindness and oppression of sin, which, in the last analysis, is slavery imposed on us by the devil. "Captivity can be felt", St. John Chrysostom teaches in a commentary on Psalm 126, "when it proceeds from physical ene- mies, but the spiritual captivity referred to here is worse; sin exerts a more severe tyranny, evil takes control and blinds those who lend it obedience; from this spiri- tual prison Jesus Christ rescued us" ("Catena Aurea"). However, this passage is also in line with Jesus' special concern for those most in need. "Similarly, the Church encompasses with her love all those who are afflicted by human misery and she recognizes in those who are poor and who suffer the image of her poor and suffering Founder. She does all in her power to relieve their need and in them she strives to serve Christ" (Vatican II, "Lumen Gentium", 8).

18-19. The words of Isaiah which Christ read out on this occasion describe very graphically the reason why God has sent His Son into the world -- to redeem men from sin, to liberate them from slavery to the devil and from eternal death. It is true that in the course of His public ministry Christ, in His mercy, worked ma- ny cures, cast out devils, etc. But He did not cure all the sick people in the world, nor did He eliminate all forms of distress in this life, because pain, which entered the world through sin, has a permanent redemptive value when associated with the sufferings of Christ. Therefore, Christ worked miracles not so much to release the people concerned from suffering, as to demonstrate that He had a God-given mission to bring everyone to eternal salvation.

The Church carries on this mission of Christ: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20). These simple and sublime words, which conclude the Gospel of St. Matthew, point out "the ob- ligation to preach the truths of faith, the need for sacramental life, the promise of Christ's continual assistance to His Church. You cannot be faithful to our Lord if you neglect these supernatural demands--to receive instruction in Christian faith and morality and to frequent the sacraments. It is with this mandate that Christ founded His Church [...] . And the Church can bring salvation to souls only if she remains faithful to Christ in her constitution and teaching, both dogmatic and mo- ral.

"Let us reject, therefore, the suggestion that the Church, ignoring the Sermon on the Mount, seeks a purely human happiness on earth, since we know that her only task is to bring men to eternal glory in Heaven. Let us reject any purely na- turalistic view that fails to value the supernatural role of divine grace. Let us reject materialistic opinions that exclude spiritual values from human life. Let us equally reject any secularizing theory which attempts to equate the aims of the Church with those of earthly states, distorting its essence, institutions and activities into something similar to those of temporal society" (St. J. Escriva, "In Love with the Church", 23 and 31).

18. The Fathers of the Church see in this verse a reference to the three persons of the Holy Trinity: the Spirit (the Holy Spirit) of the Lord (the Father) is upon Me (the Son); cf. Origen, "Homily 32". The Holy Spirit dwelt in Christ's soul from the very moment of the Incarnation and descended visibly upon Him in the form of a dove when He was baptized by John (cf. Luke 3:21-22).

"Because He has anointed Me": this is a reference to the anointing Jesus re- ceived at the moment of His Incarnation, principally through the grace of the hypo- static union. "This anointing of Jesus Christ was not an anointing of the body as in the case of the ancient kings, priests and prophets; rather it was entirely spiritual and divine, because the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him substantially" ("St. Pius X Catechism", 77). From this hypostatic union the fullness of all graces derives. To show this, Jesus Christ is said to have been anointed by the Holy Spirit Himself--not just to have received the graces and gifts of the Spirit, like the saints.

19. "The acceptable year": this is a reference to the jubilee year of the Jews, which the Law of God (Leviticus 25:8) lays down as occurring every fifty years, symbolizing the era of redemption and liberation which the Messiah would usher in. The era inaugurated by Christ, the era of the New Law extending to the end of the world, is "the acceptable year", the time of mercy and redemption, which will be obtained definitively in Heaven. 

The Catholic Church's custom of the "Holy Year" is also designed to proclaim and remind people of the redemption brought by Christ, and of the full form it will take in the future life.

20-22. Christ's words in verse 21 show us the authenticity with which He preached and explained the Scriptures: "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Jesus teaches that this prophecy, like the other main prophecies in the Old Testament, refers to Him and finds its fulfillment in Him (cf. Luke 24: 44ff). Thus, the Old Testament can be rightly understood only in the light of the New -- as the risen Christ showed the Apostles when He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures (cf. Luke 24:45), an understanding which the Holy Spirit perfected on the day of Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:4).