The Third Sunday after the Epiphany: Year C

Jesus reading the scroll of IsaiahThe Power of Scripture

  • Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
  • Psalm 19
  • 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
  • Luke 4:14-21

The Old Testament and Gospel readings for today both illustrate the power of God’s Word in Scripture.

Nehemiah, Ezra, and  the Levites assembled the people of Israel in Jerusalem to hear the “book of the law of Moses” (Nehemiah 8:1b) and to instruct the people in what was read. The gathered people who had returned to their ancestral home from being in exile in Mesopotamia were facing two vital tasks: rebuilding Jerusalem – its walls, palaces and Solomon’s temple – and the spiritual foundation of their common life together as a People of God. After three generations away from Judea, many of the people no longer understood the language, so the appointed scribes (Ezra) explained and translated the words with the help of their governor (Nehemiah) and the Levites (those entrusted with worship).

By re-claiming the story of God’s People, the proclamation was shared with all, as we hear in Psalm 19 today – God’s “torah.”

Luke’s Gospel shows Jesus reading the Word of God and offering his interpretation of the Scripture in the synagogue of Nazareth. Filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus reads a scroll from the prophet Isaiah, sharing the good news of salvation. When he had finished he closed the book and said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus was re-claiming God’s Word to God’s People as he himself was defining his vocation.

In Jesus’ time, the synagogue was the central focus of Jewish community life and worship. The presence of Jesus in the synagogue puts the actions of Jesus firmly within the context of contemporary Judaism. The worship service itself would have included prayers, the reading of Scripture, and comments on the reading.

The ritual of reading the gospel at the Eucharist comes out of the ancient rite described in today’s first reading. Just as the role of the Levites were to help the people understand the law, the role of the preacher and teacher in the church today is to help interpret the scriptures today. As Jesus embodied the scripture in his life (“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”), so the church is to embody God’s word in the life of the congregation and each individual Christian.

For reflection:

  • How is today’s “audience” in your congregation similar the those who were re-gathered in Jerusalem after the Exile?
  • Why did Jesus chose the passage from Isaiah to read? 
  • If you had been present in the synagogue on this particular day, how do you think you would have reacted to Jesus’ proclamation in Luke 4:21?
  • As individuals, we are also called to carry on the ministry that Jesus describes. As you read the verses from 1 Corinthians 12, how are you personally called to ministry as a member of the Body of Christ?
  • How do you feel the Spirit of the Lord working in your own life?

About Sharon Ely Pearson

Wife, mom, grandmother; author, educator, consultant; trying to make a difference one action at a time. Christian formation has been my vocation for 40+ years - and counting!
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