Friday after the Epiphany

10th January.

1st Reading: 1st Epistle of John 4:19–5:4

(Whoever loves God should love Jesus, and all of our fellow-Christians. )

Beloved, we love God because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a sister or brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God, and everyone who loves the Father loves also the one begotten by him. In this way we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.

Gospel: Luke 4:14-22

(In the Nazareth synagogue, Jesus proclaims the Isaiah prophecy fulfilled.)

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news of him spread throughout the whole region. He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all. He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.

Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.

What Jesus wanted to achieve

Nowhere else — except perhaps in his conversation during the Last Supper — does Jesus express his purpose in life so clearly as in his Scripture-based talk to his fellow villagers in the Nazareth synagogue. When called to the rostrum to read from the holy Scripture and say some words of inspiration and guidance, he chose a key text from Isaiah that summed up exactly what he himself wanted to achieve, as a preacher and healer.

He must have known this passage well, for Luke remarks that Jesus unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written. We may well imagine that he had heard it read before, often perhaps, and had made it his own by frequent meditation. In many ways it conveys the same deep, hope-filled spirituality found in Our Lady’s Magnificat about joy and liberty, and the divine power that can set free all who are oppressed. And what a gracious God is there portrayed, a God who anoints with the Spirit the one who is to bring joy and fullness of life to the poor, the captives and the blind. No wonder the villagers were impressed and delighted, to think that this new day of salvation had dawned.

The way can be long and arduous, from hatching an idealistic programme to achieving it in the real world. So it was for Jesus. Soon after applauding him, his audience in Nazareth turned against him and drove him from their village. This prepares us for the opposition he will meet from Scribes, Pharisees and the Jerusalem priesthood as he tries to spread his message. His ideals of liberation, sharing and fraternity, and of loosening the chains of a legalistic, hierarchical structures were anathema to the priveleged few. In the end, of course, they led to his rejection and execution in the darkness of the hill of Calvary.

But even on Calvary, more than ever — as Luke will show (Lk 23:43,45) — the Spirit of the Lord was still with Jesus, giving sight to the blind and letting the oppressed go free. His life’s mission, announced in the Nazareth Synagogue and carried out in many places over the next three years, reached its climax of completion in his sacrificial death, about which each of us can say “He loved me, and gave himself for me!” (Gal 2:20)

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