Readings: Nehemiah 8:2-6, 8-10; Psalm 18; 1 Corinthians 12:12-30; Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21
Some years ago the American bishops produced a document on the Sunday homily entitled ‘Fulfilled in your hearing’. The phrase is taken from today’s gospel reading when Jesus says this to his own people at Nazareth. According to the Gospel this is all he says. By contrast, Ezra, in the first reading, read the law to the people making interpretations and explaining the sense so that they would understand. They were moved to tears. Jesus offers no interpretation or explanation beyond saying that the promise contained in the scripture is now fulfilled. We will read next week that his listeners were moved to anger by his preaching.
Jesus’ claim is clear. He is saying that he is not just another prophet and that his preaching is not just another moment in the series in which God renews the covenant with the people. He is the Messiah, the one promised in the text just read, the one anointed to preach good news to the poor and release to captives, to restore sight to the blind and to set at liberty those who are oppressed. He is himself the interpretation of the text. We might even go further and say that the text interprets Him, since He is himself the Word to which these words point.
It is rare that preaching moves us to anything, whether tears or anger! The words of the scripture are too often familiar and flat, read in a way that is monotonous and throw away, preached about in ways that are superficial and uncertain. Perhaps, like the chorus in T.S.Eliot’s play Murder in the Cathedral, ‘we do not want anything to happen’. It is nice to be comforted by the words of scripture and to pretend that we are allowing ourselves to be challenged by them. But what if something were to happen? What if a preacher were to hit a nail on the head? What if a text came close to being fulfilled in our hearing, a text about judgement or a text about love? What if someone were to take the teaching of Jesus seriously?
Jesus comes to Nazareth ‘in the power of the Spirit’ and this is how we must come to the reading and hearing of the Word of God. Where it is read and received in prayer there is hope that the Word might achieve that for which it is sent. Then we will be ready for it to be fulfilled in our hearing. Then we will be ready for something to happen. And if we do read it in that way, something will happen.
[First published in The Pastoral Review, Jan-Feb 2007]