In our first reading from Nehemiah, the people of Israel have returned from exile, and Ezra the priest assembles the people together and reads God’s Law to them. The people listen attentively, and at the end, join Ezra in blessing God. Then, the people, in a spirit of repentance, prostrate themselves, weeping over their sins. But Ezra and Nehemiah encourage the people to celebrate: “Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!”
That sentiment is amplified in our Gospel reading from Luke, in which we hear about Jesus returning to Nazareth, entering the synagogue there, and reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah. The prophecy He reads is full of hope, about the prophet being sent to bring “glad tidings to the poor,” “proclaim liberty to captives,” “recovery of sight to the blind,” and “to let the oppressed go free, and to announce a year acceptable to the Lord.” And then, Jesus makes a bold statement: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus’ coming is a cause for joy!
Similar to the reflections on the Baptism of Jesus, when we may have considered whether the Father’s words to Jesus, “You are my beloved Son. With you I am well pleased;” may be extended to us, I wonder whether part of rejoicing in the Lord might be rejoicing in the gift of life that God has given us, and the gift of each other. In our second reading from 1 Corinthians, we hear this great discourse by St. Paul about the unity and diversity of the body of Christ, using the human body as a metaphor: “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.” St. Paul writes about how no part of the Body of Christ should consider itself not a part of the Body because it’s not the same as another part. He also writes about how no part of the Body should look on another part as being unnecessary; that in fact, all the parts are related: “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.”
If we could let ourselves rejoice in the Lord, and out of that, rejoice in the gift of our lives and the gifts of the lives of others, God’s love in Jesus Christ for us could shine through us, and we could do our part in bringing glad tidings to the poor, sight to the blind, liberty to captives and freedom to the oppressed.
May Jesus use us to help others rejoice in Him.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior of the Passionist Community in Birmingham, Alabama.