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Meditation on 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

‘Word of liberation, full of mercy.’

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Word of liberation, full of mercy.
Roman Rite
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – January 24, 2016
Neh 8, 2-4.5-6.8-10; Ps 19; 1Cor 12.12 – 30; Lk 1, 1-4; 4.14- 21

Ambrosian Rite
Third Sunday after the Epiphany
Nm 13, 1-2. 17-27; Ps 104; 2 Cor 9: 7-14; Mt 15: 32-38

1) The Today of Jesus: the Today of mercy.
Today the liturgy makes us listen to two passages of the Gospel of St. Luke.
The first (Lk 1,1-4) is the phrase with which synthetically St. Luke informs Theophilus (whose name means the beloved of God and the friend of God) that he had carefully written his Gospel to tell what Jesus said and did.
The second (Lk 4.14 to 21) presents the narrative of the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus. In Luke this «programmatic» speech of Jesus has the same function that in Matthew the Sermon on the Mount has. It is the new Magna Charta of Christianity entrusted to Theophilus, and to each of us, called to hear the Word of the Lord, to be his friends and to be witnesses of the merciful love of God for every man.
Today, we hear in church, during Mass, the commentary on the prophecy of Isaiah that Jesus did about two thousand years ago in the synagogue of Nazareth: «Today is fulfilled the words of this book that you have heard with your ears» (Luke 4, 21). Let us identify ourselves with the scene, entering in the synagogue of Nazareth, so we can spiritually be present to a historical fact of capital importance. The Messiah gets up, takes in his hands the scroll of Isaiah and finds the sentence where it is written: «The Spirit of the Lord is upon me …”. After reading this passage from the prophet Isaiah, Jesus sits (namely he becomes the Master) and in a silence full of expectation, teaches: «Today this scripture has been fulfilled.» We, like his countrymen, remain astonished by the conclusion that Christ derives from the prophecy of Isaiah. I think that it is safe to imagine that when Jesus said: «Today …» (as I mentioned just above), he has indicated himself with the index of his hand. He is the fulfillment of all the scriptures. His presence among men begins the year of grace. From that moment on, the signs of mercy and closeness of God for the poor, the blind and the imprisoned and to all who are in need, will become increasingly evident.
St. Cyril of Alexandria says that the «today«, placed between the first and the final coming of Christ, is linked to the ability of the believer to listen and to repent (see PG 69, 1241). But, in a sense even more radical, it is Jesus himself the «today» of salvation in history, because He completes the fullness of redemption. The term «today» is very dear to Saint Luke (see 19, 9; 23, 43) to teach that Jesus is the savior. Already in the narratives of his infancy, this Evangelist refers the words of the angel to the shepherds: «Today, in the city of David, is born to you a Savior, Christ the Lord» (Lk 2:11). «Before speaking of God and with God, we must listen to him, and the liturgy of the Church is the» school «of this listening to the Lord who speaks to us. It says that every moment can become a «today» propitious for our conversion. Every day can be the today of salvation because salvation is an ongoing history for the Church and for every disciple of Christ. This is the Christian sense of carpe diem «(Benedict XVI), which in the pagan way is the attempt to attach oneself to the fleeting moment and in the Christian way is the seizure of the day in which God calls us to give us salvation.
Let us ask Mary, Mother of Mercy, the grace to recognize and accept, in every day of our life, the presence of God, our Savior and Savior of all humanity. This will be for us like receiving a new evangelization. In this Holy Year of Mercy, Pope Francis invites us to seek the today of God, of his love, of his mercy for every man. It is about living the time of grace (in the gospel with the Greek word kairos), the appropriate time of the encounter with God seeking his children, chasing them to give them all his love of Father as if He could not be happy without them. In biblical language, kairos means just the positive quality of time, it is the favorable and propitious time, the one chosen by God to manifest his mercy.
2) The Today of the evangelizers of mercy.
Nowadays, we hear for us and in us the announcement of the good news that God is Love, merciful, good and affectionate. Being Father, he loves to be with his children and his love never fails: He is «merciful», because the characteristic of the goodness of God is to «give his benefits to those He loves.»
To welcome the merciful love that Jesus brought, means, then, to join a «new world» in which we live in Mercy a filial relationship with God and a fraternal love among us. God became one of us so that we might be with him and become like him.
Those who has been evangelized by the experience of mercy, which is the righteousness of God that recreates, must evangelize. Those who have been evangelized by this experience: «God loves us and loves us with Merciful Love», have met indeed the God of mercy and, in turn, should lead the world in the Christian message that God is «rich in mercy» (Eph 2: 4) He is a Father who understands us and who has sent his Son, made flesh like us, to tell us that we are children of mercy.
In this today of mercy, the more fitting behavior that we should have toward God and above all toward God Merciful Love, is to abandon ourselves in him. Surrendering ourselves in the hands of God allows us to be embraced by His mercy that gives strength and recreates a new heart.
In fact, Merciful Love redeems transforming our hearts and making us new people, because there is no new humanity if there are not men new in the heart.
3) Mercy and Virginity.
In the Church there is a vocation that helps all Christians to rediscover the true meaning of God’s mercy: virginity. Those who, like the virgins in the world, consecrate themselves to God in total abandonment, show how it is possible to enter a new dimension of relations with God and with men: that one of the knowledge of the gratuity of God and of the selfless love of Christ for each one of us. The entire Biblical history is marked by this faithful love of God and of his mercy and compassion. Even when they announce the worst punishment, the prophets never fail to remember that God’s heart is always ready to break away from his anger of betrayed Father: «For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great tenderness I will take you back. In an outburst of wrath, for a moment I hid my face from you; But with enduring love I take pity on you, says the LORD, your redeemer «(Is 54: 7-8). God does not keep resentment toward man, his being merciful brings him to the perennial desire that man lives: «Who is a God like you, who removes guilt and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance; Who does not persist in anger forever, but instead delights in mercy«(Micah 7: 18-20).
The consecrated persons are called in a special way to be witnesses of this mercy of the Lord, in which every human being finds his and her salvation. They keep alive the experience of God’s forgiveness, because they have the awareness of being saved persons, of being great when they recognize to be small and to feel renewed and enveloped by the holiness of God when they recognize their own sin. For this reason, for the humanity of today, consecrated life remains a privileged school of the «compunction of heart” and of the humble recognition of one’s misery. Likewise, it remains a school of trust in the mercy of God and in his love that never abandons. In fact, the closer one gets to God, the closer he or she is to Him, the more he or she is useful to others.
I would add a final reflection, which I consider important. The consecrated virgins bring closer to us the example of Mary, Virgin of Mercy. Since the 11th century, Mary was recognized as mother of mercy because since that time the truth of the deep, intimate connection between her being the Mother of God and the Mother of each of us has been clear. Mercy is a quality of maternal love. Jesus the Son was created to be the mercy of mankind and Mary spread and spreads this mercy from generation to generation with a Mother’s love. The consecrated virgins in the world testify that even today Mary is not only a refuge for mercy, but a model of mercy and that the new family of God’s children is not based «on flesh and blood», but on the grace of a love completely donated to God.
Patristic reading
Golden Chain
ORIGEN; The Lord having overcome the tempter, power was added to Him, i.e. as far as regards the manifestation of it. Hence it is said, And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit.
THEOPHYL; By the power of the Spirit he means showing forth of miracles.
CYRIL; Now He performed miracles not from any external power, and from having as it were the acquired grace of the Holy Spirit, as other saints, but rather as being by nature the Son of God, and partaking of all things which are the Father’s, He exercises as by His own power and operation that grace which is of the Holy Spirit. But it was right that from that time He should become known, and that the mystery of His humanity should shine forth among those who were of the seed of Israel. It therefore follows, And his fame went out.
THEOPHYL; And because wisdom belongs to teaching, but power to works, both are joined here, as it follows, And he taught in the synagogue.
Synagogue, which is a Greek word, is rendered in Latin congregatio. By this name then the Jews were accustomed to call not only the gathering together of people, but also the house where they met together to hear the word of God; as we call by the name of Church, both the place and the company of the faithful. But there is this difference between the synagogue which is called congregation, and the Church which is interpreted convocation, that flocks and cattle, and any thing else can be gathered together in one, but only rational beings can be called together. Accordingly the Apostolical doctors thought right to call a people which was distinguished by the superior dignity of a new grace rather by the name of Church, than Synagogue. But rightly also was the fact of His being magnified by those present proved, by actual evidence of word and deed, as it follows, And he was magnified by all.
ORIGEN; But you must not think that they only were happy, and that you are deprived of Christ’s teaching. For now also throughout the world He teaches through His instruments, and is now more glorified by all men, than at that time when those only in one province were gathered together.
CYRIL; He communicates the knowledge of Himself to those among whom He was brought up according to the flesh. As it follows, And he came to Nazareth.
THEOPHYL. That He might teach us to benefit and instruct first our brethren, then to extend our kindness to the rest of our friends.
THEOPHYL; They flocked together on the Sabbath day in the synagogues, that, resting from all worldly occupations, they might set themselves down with a quiet mind to meditate on the precepts of the Law. Hence it follows, And he entered as was his custom on the Sabbath day into the synagogue.
AMBROSE; The Lord in every thing so humbled Himself to obedience, that He did not despise even the office of a reader, as it follows, And he rose up to read, and there was delivered to him the book, &c. He received the book indeed, that He might show Himself to be the same who spoke in the Prophets, and that He might stop the blasphemies of the wicked, who say that there is one God of the Old Testament, another of the New; or who say that Christ had His beginning from a virgin. For how did He begin from a virgin, who spoke before that virgin was?
ORIGEN; He opens not the book by chance, and finds a chapter containing a prophecy of Himself, but by the providence of God. Hence it follows, And when he had opened the book, he found the place, &c.
ATHAN. He says this to explain to us the cause of the revelation made Or to the world, and of His taking upon Him the human nature. For as the Son, though He is the giver of. the Spirit, does not refuse to confess as man that by the Spirit He casts out devils, so, inasmuch as He was made man, He does not refuse to say, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.
CYRIL; In like manner we confess Him to have been anointed, inasmuch as He took upon Him our flesh, as it follows, Because he has anointed me. For the Divine nature is not anointed, but that which is cognate to us. So also when He says that He was sent, we must suppose Him speaking of His human nature. For it follows, He has sent me to preach the gospel to the poor.
AMBROSE; You see the Trinity coeternal and perfect. The Scripture speaks of Jesus as perfect God and perfect man. It speaks of the Father, and the Holy Spirit, who was shown to be a cooperator, when in a bodily form as a dove He descended upon Christ.
ORIGEN; By the poor He means the Gentile nations, for they were poor, possessing nothing at all, having neither God, nor Law, nor Prophets, nor justice, and the other virtues.
AMBROSE; Or, He is anointed all over with spiritual oil, and heavenly virtue, that He might enrich the poverty of man’s condition with the everlasting treasure of His resurrection.
THEOPHYL; He is sent also to preach the Gospel to the poor, saying, Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.
CYRIL; For perhaps to the poor in spirit He declares in these words, that among all the gifts which are obtained through Christ, upon them was bestowed a free gift. It follows, To heal the broken hearted. He calls those broken hearted, who are weak, of an infirm mind, and unable to resist the assaults of the passions, and to them He promises a healing remedy.
BASIL; Or, He came to heal the broken hearted, i.e. to afford a remedy to those that have their heart broken by Satan through sin, because beyond all other things sin lays prostrate the human hears.
THEOPHYL; Or, because it is written, A broken and a contrite heart God will not despise. He says therefore, that He is sent to heal the broken hearted, as it is written, Who heals the broken hearted.
It follows, And to preach deliverance to the captives.
CHRYS. The word captivity has many meanings. There is a good captivity, which St. Paul speaks of when he says, Bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. There is a bad captivity also, of which it is said, Leading captive silly women laden with sins. There is a captivity present to the senses, that is by our bodily enemies. But the worst captivity is that of the mind, of which he here speaks. For sin exercises the worst of all tyrannies, commanding to do evil, and destroying them that obey it. From this prison of the soul Christ lets us free.
THEOPHYL. But these things may be understood also of the dead, who being taken captive have been loosed from the dominion of hell by the resurrection of Christ. It follows, And recovering of sight to the blind.
CYRIL; For the darkness which the Devil has spread over the human heart, Christ the Sun of Righteousness has removed making men, as the Apostle says, children not of night and darkness, but of light and the day. For they who one time wandered have discovered the path of the righteous. It follows, To set at liberty them that are bruised.
ORIGEN; For what had been so shattered and dashed about as man, who was set at liberty by Jesus and healed?
THEOPHYL; Or, to set at liberty them that are bruised; i.e. to relieve those who had been heavy laden with the intolerable burden of the Law.
ORIGEN; But all these things were mentioned first, in order that after the recovery of sight from blindness, after deliverance from captivity, after being healed of divers wounds, we might come to the acceptable year of the Lord. As it follows, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. Some say that, according to the simple meaning of the word, the Savior preached the Gospel throughout Judea in one year, and that this is what is meant by preaching the acceptable year of the Lord. Or, the acceptable year of the Lord is the whole time of the Church, during which while present in the body, it is absent from the Lord.
THEOPHYL; For not only was that year acceptable in which our Lord preached, but that also in which the Apostle preaches, saying, Behold, now is the accepted time. After the acceptable year of the Lord, he adds, And the day of retribution; that is, the final retribution, when the Lord shall give to every one according to his work.
AMBROSE; Or, by the acceptable year of the Lord, he means this day extended through endless ages, which knows of no return to a world of labor, and grants to men everlasting reward and rest. It follows, And he closed the book, and he gave it again.
THEOPHYL; He read the book to those who were present to hear Him, but having read it, He returned it to the minister; for while He was in the world He spoke openly, teaching in the synagogues and in the temple; but about to return to heaven, He committed the office of preaching the Gospel to those who from the beginning were eye-witnesses and ministers of the word. He read standing, because while explaining those Scriptures which were written of Him, He condescended to work in the flesh; but having returned the book, He sits down, because He restored Himself to the throne of heavenly rest. For standing is the part of the workman, but sitting of one who is resting or judging. So also let the preacher of the word rise up and read and work and preach, and sit down, i.e. wait for the reward of rest. But He opens the book and reads, because sending the Spirit, He taught His Church all truth; having shut the book, He returned it to the minister, because all things were not to be said to all, but He committed the word to the teacher to be dispensed according to the capacity of the hearers. It follows, And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fastened on him.
ORIGEN; And now also if we will, our eyes can look upon the Savior. For when you direct your whole heart to wisdom, truth, and the contemplation of the only-begotten Son of God, your eyes behold Jesus.
CYRIL; But then He turned the eyes of all men upon Him, wondering how He knew the writing which He had never learnt. But since it was the custom of the Jews to say that the prophecies spoken of Christ are completed either in certain of their chiefs, i.e. their kings, or in some of their holy prophets, the Lord made this announcement; as it follows, But he began to say to them that this Scripture is fulfilled.
THEOPHYL; Because, in fact, as that Scripture had foretold, the Lord was both doing great things, and preaching greater.

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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