By the Rev Msgr Harry Entwistle
Sunday 27th Jan, 2019
St Luke describes Jesus’ baptism as the occasion of his empowerment by the Holy Spirit and the explanation of his continuing spiritual power. Jesus had been teaching, preaching and healing in Capernaum but in today’s reading he visits Nazareth where he was brought up. He was the local lad made good so when he visited the synagogue, he was given the honour of reading from the Scriptures and giving an exposition of them.
The reading was from Isaiah where the prophet said that he had been anointed by God’s Spirit to proclaim release to the captives, give sight to the blind and announce liberty to the oppressed. What does Luke mean by ‘release’ and ‘liberty?’ He uses the same Greek word for both English words, and normally the Greek word means ‘forgiveness.’ Luke links salvation with healing and being brought into the fellowship of God’s family. So the Church may have a mission, but it is also the mission. This is how the apostles and first disciples exercised their ministry after the resurrection, namely healing and growing the Church.
People wanted healings and that is normal human behaviour but getting what we pray for don’t necessarily touch the demands that God’s places on people’s souls. The first response of the Nazareth congregation to Jesus was one of adulation. He was one of them and if he did all those wonderful things that people said he did, how much more will he do for them. It was Jesus’ response to that attitude that turned the people against him (but that is next week’s reading). People are happy to receive gifts and blessings from God, but less keen on keeping his laws or accepting the demands of discipleship and the disciplines that go with it.
The Jews who had returned from exile in Babylon centuries earlier realised that their exile was the result of their abandoning God’s law. They had forgotten what the law said, so Nehemiah gathered them together in one of the city squares and made them stand there while Ezra read the law to them. It took most of the day! God’s law is not a list of restrictions, but a description of the kind of community God wants his people to create. The laws are markers and guideposts that are intended to be a liberation. When people know where the boundaries are, there is liberty within them. Nehemiah and Ezra hoped that the people would see the law as an act of love and not of restriction.
The law of the Israelites was an external law which the people were expected to embrace but what Jesus taught was an internal law, the law of love which disciples were invited to embrace and work out for themselves how to live by it. Living by the principle of love is a choice. Each of us chooses to be a Christian disciple and whether we try to live a Catholic life. Choosing ensures that we own what we choose. If things are imposed upon us, we are more likely to ignore or reject them. So choice is vital, and with that choice comes a responsibility not only for oneself but for the Church and everyone who are part of it.
St Paul does not describe the Church as a body of people. He describes it as the body of a person, namely the Body of Christ. In choosing to be a member of the Body of Christ, we are valued and valuable. Bodies can only function healthily if there is interdependence and interconnectedness between the members of it. If one suffers, all suffer, if one rejoices all rejoice, if one fails all are affected. In the Church each disciple is equal to every other disciple but distinctive from every other disciple. Each one is empowered with gifts from the Holy Spirit, and while no-one disciple is empowered with all the Spirit’s gifts, no one gift is given to everyone. We have all been given some gifts. Gifts are meant to be received, opened and used. Yet the recipient has to choose to receive them, open them and use them.
In these difficult times the Catholic Church is being targeted, ridiculed and persecuted both by those outside of it and those within it. All of us have gifts that are needed to proclaim how God’s love has come to us through Jesus and all our gifts are needed to draw even more people into the Body of Christ, the Church.
Choices, choices, choices – but not all choices lead to lead to eternal life. Make those that do.
Monsignor Entwistle is the first Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross. Educated at St Chad's Theological College, he was ordained a priest in the Church of England Diocese of Blackburn in 1964. After reception into the Roman Catholic Church, he was ordained to the priesthood in St Mary's Cathedral, Perth on 15 June 2012.