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John R. DonahueJanuary 08, 2001

The Lectionary continues the theme of the initial manifestations of Jesus. The Gospel joins the first words of Luke’s Gospel to Jesus’ initial proclamation at Nazareth. Luke states that his purpose is to produce a narrative or story in reliance on traditions handed down by eyewitnesses and ministers of the word. In the second part of today’s Gospel, Luke describes the beginning of Jesus’ ministry differently than the other Evangelists, where Jesus’ first act is to call disciples. Jesus arrives in Galilee in the power of the Spirit, teaches and gives his inaugural sermon in Nazareth.

He roots his mission and ministry in the written word of Isaiah, in which the Spirit sends the prophet to bring glad tidings to the poor, liberation to captives, recovery of sight to the blind and freedom for the oppressedlanguage that reflects the biblical year of jubilee. Jesus’ sense of mission is an overture to his teaching and actions throughout the Gospel and to the mission of the early church in Acts. As the church concludes a year of jubilee, the Gospel reminds us that the church must continually renew the true jubilee of concern for the marginal and freedom for the oppressed. As we witness a presidential inauguration, one might ask where are the kinds of people Jesus was concerned about in his inaugural address at Nazareth?

Combined with Nehemiah’s proclamation of the law to the returning exiles, the importance and power of God’s word is a major motif of the readings. Cardinal Carlo Martini, S.J., of Milan recently called for a renewal of the biblical renewal. Though the Second Vatican Council mandated that the proclamation, preaching, and study of Scripture was to be at the heart of church life, the vitality of the biblical renewal seems overwhelmed by a massive increase in official teaching and theological reflection. Also, at home and at work Catholics are faced with literalist readings of Scripture. Overworked priests and bishops find it difficult to dedicate the time and energy to prepare challenging biblical homilies.

Paradoxically, Scripture seems to remain vital among those unordained ministers of the word, through such things as catechesis of adults preparing for Christian initiation, parish study groups and summer Scripture institutes. If the spirit of the jubilee is to continue, the church must renew its commitment to live and study the word of God, and explore other ways in which more Catholics living the Gospel may become truly ministers of the word, and so manifest the diversity of gifts of the Spirit described by St. Paul to the Corinthians.

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