Veronica Lawson RSM
8 January 2013
The liturgy for today juxtaposes the introductory verses of Luke’s gospel and a passage from the beginning of Jesus Galilean ministry that encapsulates and sets the tone for the whole gospel. If we had no other part of Luke’s gospel than these twelve verses, we would know a great deal about the gospel and about its author’s intentions.
From the first four verses, we would know that Luke is not an eyewitness to the life and ministry of Jesus but is endeavouring to provide an orderly account on the basis of reliable eyewitness accounts handed down to the community by ‘servants’ or ministers of the word. We would know that Luke’s is one of many and not just four gospels. We would also know that the gospel is carefully researched and addressed to a person of influence called Theophilus, a name that means lover of God or beloved of God.
We might guess that Theophilus is Luke’s benefactor, someone who provides the necessary funds to produce this work, and possibly the early equivalent of an RCIA candidate. We would know from the grammatical construction that the author is male. And most importantly, we would know that Luke sets out to place on a firm foundation the teaching Theophilus has received about Jesus. The word translated as ‘truth’ (asphaleia) in our lectionary can also means certainty or assurance. Luke wants the gospel message to be well grounded.
When we turn to Luke 4:14-21, we find a dramatic scene set in the Nazareth synagogue. This programmatic scene sets the tone for the whole gospel. Luke’s gospel story is about the release that comes from the gracious and expansive love of God mediated through God’s anointed and Spirit-filled prophet. Every significant event in Luke is powered by the Spirit of God. This event is no exception.
The Spirit-filled Jesus searches out and proclaims a passage from the prophet Isaiah, a combination of Isaiah 61:1-2 and 58:9. He then points to his own mission as a fulfilment of the Isaian prophecy. Jesus thus presents himself as the Spirit-filled anointed one of God who brings good news to the destitute or homeless poor, release to captives, sight to the blind, and freedom for the oppressed.
The Greek word translated as ‘oppressed’ literally means ‘shattered’. It evokes images of asylum seekers in both on-shore and off-shore detention centres and of the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by typhoons and cyclones. It evokes the pain of the Earth itself and the other-than-human inhabitants of our planet suffering the effects of climate change and ecological destruction.
If the gospel message is to be well-grounded in our times, the ‘destitute’ and ‘shattered’ of our Earth community must find the ‘release’ of which the gospel speaks.