Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
For the Israelites their signs of salvation were the Arc of the Covenant and the proclamation of the commands of God and abiding by them. When the Arc was with them and they listened to and obeyed God’s commands, they were triumphant over their enemies and lived in peace. When God’s people transgressed against His laws and looked to and emulated the life of their pagan neighbors, they would be punished with death (at times, instant), or defeat, or captivity and oppression by another kingdom.
For the Jews, their faith and salvation were based on the Torah and the Temple. The book, with hundreds of little rules, which they called laws, guided everyone on how to go about their daily duties, their worship and prayer life, and their relationships. The Pharisees and the Scribes saw to it that those laws were fulfilled, and most of the time with abuse of authority, because they would not even lift a finger to help the little ones.
The Temple was the center of worship. Worship included prayer and offering. These were also governed by their little laws that would declare people in unity with God and with the community or declare them sinful and should be expelled. These little laws were rather heavy to carry especially by the little ones, while the Pharisees and Scribes would not live out what they taught. For the elders, they thought they were already saved, and thought that the little ones were a miserable and irredeemable breed. But the Book and the Temple as the ways to salvation were not meant only for the Jews, particularly the elders, but for all people.
In this situation and condition, Jesus came, to teach the little ones, to heal those who were hurt and oppressed, and to redeem all who would humbly come to Him. He Himself would be the sacrifice of the people and the Temple in whom people would come and find rest, for His yoke is easy and His burden, light. So, in the Temple, after proclaiming those words from the Prophet Isaiah and all eyes were fixed on Him, Jesus proclaimed: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21).
Today, when promises seem empty, information gets misleading, and knowledge is abused, all because of people’s selfish motives, we look for meaning elsewhere. We look for meaning outside of ourselves, apart from the One who came to be the Sacrifice, and outside the Temple who is God Himself. In Baptism, Jesus Himself makes us Temples of the Holy Spirit, so that we can participate in His life and in His saving plan. About the world, meaning is always elusive; about heaven, meaning is certain, promising and salvific. Yes, today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in our hearing (Lk 4:21). Jesus comes to us, leading us to His Father and renewing us in the Holy Spirit, as we fix our eyes intently on Him and make our actions aligned to His commands. So, He gives us the following instruments for salvation:
- a) The Church. In 1975 in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi, Pope Paul VI said about the Kingdom of God: “this is so important that, by comparison, everything else becomes “the rest,” which is “given in addition.” Only the kingdom therefore is absolute and it makes everything else relative” (# 8).
- b) The Sacraments. “The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation” (CCC 1129). The Church teaches us: “Celebrated worthily in faith, the sacraments confer the grace that they signify…. As fire transforms into itself everything it touches, so the Holy Spirit transforms into the divine life whatever is subjected to his power (CCC 1127).
- c) The Scriptures. “The Church forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful… to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ (CCC #133).
When material things, fame and power subjugate our lives, frustration and disappointments reign. Many families collapse, married couples break up, relationships are damaged, economies crumble, personalities disintegrate, governments fall, and people become self-centered. Much of our frustration and disappointments, though, come from the fact that we have traded our primary task of building the Kingdom of God to building our own little kingdoms; each to his own, and everyone to the power he has grabbed. When power and envy dominate our lives, quarrels and wars erupt, and the world is ruled by the survival of the fittest. These happen because we lose our concern for one another and our connection with God. So we learn that when our relationship with God and with others is ruled by the things of this world, we’re easy prey to corruption, and it’s the devil’s arena. When our life is ruled by things of heaven, we obtain our salvation, not because of our own merit, but by the power of God, and this is God’s Kingdom.
So, we commit ourselves again in fidelity to Jesus, His Church, and our families, and proclaim that only in Him can we find joy and salvation.