Third Sunday of Ordinary Time • Year C

John J. Lydon, O.S.A.
Vicariato San Juan de Sahagun
Trujillo (La Libertad)
Peru

Readings
Neh 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10
Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 15
1 Cor 12:12-30 or 1 Cor 12:12-14, 27
Lk 1:1-4; 4:14-21

The importance of Today is seen in the passages of Holy Scripture this Sunday. In the First Reading the prophet Erza is taking the ancient writings and interpreting them for the audience of his own time. He does not simply read the text, but answers the question, what does it mean for us “today”? St. Luke in the gospel begins by saying he is taking all the knowledge and information from those who walked with Jesus and putting them down in writing for the new church of his day. Then the gospel reading jumps to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, where he likewise takes an ancient text from the prophet Isaiah and says: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled…”

So we need to do the same. Where are we today? And what does God’s Word call forth from us as his disciples and missionaries to the world? Obviously our today is dominated by the world-changing coronavirus which goes up and down and seems to result in a collective form of sadness, depression, confusion, and uncertainty. The arguments go on and on about vaccinations, masks, schools opened and closed, CDC guidelines, state norms, national norms; in the midst of it all we can justly feel overwhelmed. In fact, we can feel like we are captives to our circumstances. That is our “today.”

What does God say to us in the middle of it all? God does not save us from our humanity. He does not come to take away our human fragilities nor the illnesses that come from viruses that spring from nature or perhaps even from our laboratories. He comes into our world, as Jesus says in the gospel, to set us free. To set the captives free. And we are indeed those captives – captives to the social situation of the virus, but certainly captives to our inner tendencies of selfishness, self-righteousness, self-aggrandizement. But we are offered and indeed given our freedom from these things to the degree that we center our focus and our personal decisions on the cross of love that Christ came to give us as the way to freedom.

We can see from the Holy Scriptures of this Sunday, three basic principles that should guide us as a community of faith.

1. We are strong. Erza tells us: “Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength.” Our strength does not come from ourselves, nor our government, nor science and technology, nor social media. It comes from the power of God and our faith in Him. He does not liberate us from our struggles and hardships, but He is the strength that allows us to believe, indeed to know, that we are not alone. We are guided by His light, we are held and cared for in His hands. We don’t know what tomorrow will be with this ever-changing virus. We don’t know what guidelines will be pronounced and what restrictions will be put into place. We are in a place where certainty as to how daily life will unfold no longer exists. But we do know, with certainty, that He is the cause of our strength, and that our gathering here each Sunday is how we can feel anew that presence and strength, and so go forth to vanquish any sadness.

2. We are one. St Paul in the second reading makes clear that we do not stand principally as individuals to face our world. We are called to be one body as Christ is one body. This is one of the most challenging tasks in the moments of crisis when we tend to look after ourselves and put everyone else sightly or greatly out of our thoughts. The lone cowboy occupies in our collective imagination a more important place than the communal wagon train. However, St. Paul tells us Christ’s body is one, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” We must always ask the question, a central principal of Catholic faith, what is required of me for the common good? St. Augustine tells us: “When we put the common good above our own, it is then that we know we are growing in charity.” The common good is directed to the entire human community, and so we must always be willing to fight for a just global distribution of vaccines, health care, educational access, etc. Pope Francis has argued about the need to distribute vaccines around the world, indeed to get vaccinated, based on the principal of the common good. It remains a constant challenge to our way of thinking but indispensable if we are to be one “as Christ.”

3. We are doers, not spectators. Jesus’ proclamation in the gospel of Luke lays out what His coming means. They are action verbs. He will make the presence of God obvious and transforming through His actions, words, example. In his first document explaining his pastoral vision, called the Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium), Pope Francis says that we are all disciples-missionaries. He says the two words are inseparable, namely if we are disciples of Christ, we must be missionaries of Christ. That means we are sent to do something. It means action verbs on our part and not just watching while the world moves up and down. We are called to make a difference, in small but faithful ways. In a divided and polarized nation, how can we witness to respect and dialogue with others who think differently? In a world where the rich countries have all the vaccines money can buy, how can we promote vaccine equality? In the tense environment and psychologically stressful reality of the pandemic, how can we sow the hope that comes from our faith in God amongst us (Emmanuel)? We must do, not just watch.

Today God speaks to us anew. He comes to set us free anew. He comes to send us out anew. May we be strengthened by this message at this time when His strength is so sorely needed. May we be motivated by this message at a time when our country and world needs hope.