January 23, 2022
Revised Common Lectionary
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10
Psalm 19:8, 9, 10, 15 (see Jn 6:63c)
1 Corinthians 12:12-14 (15-26) 27 (28-30)
Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21
Many communities and organizations spend valuable time and resources developing statements of identity, mission, or vision that express who they are and what they’re about. Creating such a statement may involve many hours of deliberation and even an outside consultant. When they gather for events or meetings, groups often read and reflect on their statements, which serve both as reminders of their ideals and as standards for evaluating how well they are living up to their shared values.
One of the primary ways that Jews and Christians both discover and express who they are and what they’re about is by gathering for worship, opening the book of God’s Word, proclaiming it aloud, and reflecting deeply on the meaning of its texts. In both Jewish synagogue services and Christian assemblies, the biblical Word is not read privately but is experienced as a proclamation event involving the entire gathered community.
When Nehemiah led the effort to restore Jerusalem and its Temple following the Babylonian exile, buildings were just the beginning. The people themselves needed to be rebuilt into God’s beloved community and their spirits needed to be reshaped to conform to God’s way.
In today’s Hebrew Scripture reading we hear how with Ezra the priest, Nehemiah gathered the people together in a solemn assembly so that they could hear the words of the Law, the Torah. These sacred writings are far more than prescriptions for how the people are to live—they are the stories of how God claimed and loved them and showed them through the Law the way to life. The Law is a gift to a people whom God loves deeply.
As they gathered for this solemn act of worship during which they heard the words of the Law, the people were overcome with weeping. Nehemiah and Ezra, however, urged them rather to rejoice, because in the Word God is showing them who they are and who they are meant to be.
Today’s Gospel reading finds Jesus in his hometown of Nazareth shortly after beginning his public ministry and teaching in the synagogues of nearby towns. Up to this point, Luke has recounted for us the stories of Jesus’ birth, baptism, and temptation. In the passage we hear today, Jesus is participating in the sabbath day service at the local synagogue “as was his custom” (Lk 4:16). The rhythm of gathering for worship as a member of the community was part of the pattern of his life and had played a role in forming his faith. It was there that he had heard the words of the Torah and had come to understand himself as a part of the people who are claimed and loved by God.
During the service, Jesus takes his turn to read, proclaiming a text from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk 4:18-19; see Is 61:1-2).
As he sat down, the people who were gathered there—including neighbors and relatives—looked at him intently. He then proceeded to offer one of the shortest but most powerful sermons ever: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (4:21). It was in this assembly of God’s people for worship that Jesus announced the good news: in him God’s reign had begun and would be revealed in acts of compassion, healing, and liberation. It was in the context of worship that he gave voice to his own mission statement.
Today’s Gospel points to the unbreakable connection between worship and action. At worship, as we experience and celebrate God’s presence and action within the community, we are formed into God’s own people and learn how to live in God’s ways. We receive the mission that Jesus himself embraced, to bring God’s merciful love to those most in need.
The biblical Word that we hear at worship today is far more than a mission statement—it proclaims the living presence of God who is speaking and acting in our midst even today.
It not only tells us who we are—it makes us who we are, transforming us into a people of faith and service.
The Word we hear at worship is not only fulfilled in our hearing—it is ultimately fulfilled in our living and serving.
A Hymn for Today: “A Year of God’s Favor”
Based on today’s Gospel reading, this hymn by Delores Dufner, OSB, FHS, celebrates the “year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk 4:19) that Jesus proclaimed in the synagogue at Nazareth. In the second and third stanzas, Dufner uses the word “fulfilled” four times in referring to the response of believers who hear this word today.
A year of God’s favor Christ promised, and more:
Good news to the pris’ner, the weak, and the poor,
Recov’ry of sense to the deaf and the blind,
Full healing for spirit, for body and mind.
This word is fulfilled in believers today,
In women and men who would follow Christ’s way.
Respond, then, with gladness, in all that you do:
A lifetime of favor is offered to you!
Fulfilled in our living be God’s word today,
Fulfilled in our loving, our work, and our play,
Fulfilled now in justice, in mercy and peace,
In joyful thanksgiving and praise without cease.
Text: Delores Dufner, OSB, b. 1939, © 1995, 2003, GIA Publications, Inc. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857
Tune: ST. DENIO
Image Credit: Jesus Unrolls the Book in the Synagogue, James Tissot (1836-1902), Brooklyn Museum
“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.
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