3rd Sunday OT: Neh 8.2-6, 8-10; 1 Cor 12.12-14, 27; Luke 1.1-4; 4.14-21
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
If I were to ask you this morning: who are you? How would you answer? Most of you would give me a name. Bob. Sue. Gladys. Some of you would add a job or career description: George, an accountant. Barbara, a nurse. Some of you might even throw in a relationship descriptor. Linda, clerk and mother of three boys. Harold, postal worker and grandfather. What else could you add? Your hometown; your parish; a bit of family history; maybe a quick medical run-down. All of these descriptors—name, job, relationships, history—all of those pick us out of the herd, I mean, they identify you as you. These are differences about us that distinguish us from them, you from me, me from them and so on. Oh, and you would likely throw in there somewhere that you are a Christian. So, let me ask: who are you as a Christian? How does this descriptor pick you out, make you different?
The reading from Nehemiah tells us something about what it means to be a faithful member of a faith-filled group. Ezra, a priest, brings out the book of the law and reads aloud. The assembly—men, women, children—listen to the law being read. We read twice in the space of four lines that the assembly is made up of men, women, and children old enough to understand. This group is picked out not by sex or age but by its attentiveness to Ezra’s reading of the book of law. They hear and listen. And then Ezra shows them the book, opening the scroll “so that all the people might see it.” They stand. And with one voice—as a people—they raise their hands, shouting “Amen, amen!” They bow. They prostrate. They fall to the ground on their faces. They weep. And then they receive instruction from Nehemiah himself. He tells them not to weep for today is holy; instead go feast because rejoicing in the Lord is their strength.
Pay careful attention! Those faithful people—men, women, children—gather; listen to the Word read aloud; receive instruction; accept an invitation to a great feast; and together they hear: to give glory and praise to the Lord, to offer Him rejoicing and thanksgiving must be their strength! Let me break that down for you: rejoicing in the Lord is how we must endure; giving God thanks and praise is how we must persevere. This is not muddling through til we die. This is not just one step after another until we drop. Today is holy to our Lord! Rejoice, give thanks, praise His name and continue on: persist, stick with it, keep going. Weep, rage, laugh, cuss, pitch a fit, flop around on the ground screaming if you must—but it is in rejoicing that you will find the strength to endure.
Those who survive while praising the Lord stand out. Those who succeed while praising the Lord distinguish themselves. But what does this have to do with being Christian? Paul writes to the Corinthians that the church is one body with many parts; one body made up of Jews, Greeks, slaves, and freed men who are no longer Jews, Greek, slaves, or freed men. Because they have all been baptized into one body and because all have drunk of one Spirit, what they were before is no more. Now—together—they are Christ’s body, working at Christ’s work, praising his Word, healing his people, feeding the hunger, finding the lost, enlightening the ignorant, together being the hands and feet of Christ. These former Jews, Greeks, slaves, and freed men survive and succeed b/c they stand out as living, breathing, fleshy machines of mercy and service, blood and bone engines of charity and freedom. They drink from one Holy Spirit, give body and soul to the only Son, and offer filial obedience to one Father. They know Christ and they know his will and they do his will to become Christ.
If I were to ask you this morning: who are you? How would you answer? Would answer, “I am Christ”? Can those words fall from your lips w/o blushing, w/o qualification? For you, for me, for any of us to admit—“I am Christ”—we must first know who Christ is. We must answer the question: who does Christ say that he is?
Luke’s gospel this morning teaches us that Jesus is the anointed one; the one upon whom the Spirit rests; the one chosen to bring joy to the poor, liberty to slaves, sight to the blind, and to set free those oppressed. We know this b/c Luke reports that Jesus goes to his hometown synagogue on the Sabbath and reads aloud from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah a description of the Messiah. When he has finished reading the passage, he sits down. All in the synagogue are watching him. He says to those gathered, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” He says to them (in effect), “I am the Christ, the Anointed One from the Lord.” Can you imagine the surprise? The anger? The shock and awe? The relief? What did those who heard this proclamation think? Here is a hometown boy who reads from Isaiah’s prophecy a description of the Messiah and then claims that in hearing the description read aloud that the prophecy is fulfilled! This man is the one promised by the prophets? Can you listen and not believe?
And notice that it is in hearing Jesus read the prophecy that the prophecy is fulfilled. Open ears. Open eyes. Listen, see. Remember the people gathered before Ezra to hear the law read, to see the book opened. They hear, listen, see, and rejoice, finding their strength in praise: Your words, O Lord, are spirit and life! They find their strength and we find ours.
Who are you? Will you say, “I am the Christ”? Does this identify you as a Christian? Does this proclamation pick you out as someone wholly given to God? Does it make you queasy to admit such a thing? It’s a big job being a Messiah. Huge job. But your part is one part in the Body of Christ. Your part is the one part you are alone are gifted to complete. You, like the rest of us, will shine out the face of Christ to all who will listen and see. You will do it uniquely. And in so doing, God’s love will be perfected in you. Will you get it wrong sometimes? Yes. Fail? Yes. Refuse to be Christ for others? Of course. And so will we. We will ignore the poor, teach falsehood, fail to free captives, leave the blind blind, the lame lame. We will embarrass the Church, dissent in order to commit our favorite sins, blow off our tradition and history, ridicule legitimate authority. We will sin. And when we do, we then become the blind in need of sight, the lame in need of healing, the captives in need of freedom, the oppressed in need of liberation. In sin, we become those for whom the Christ came.
There is one Body, many parts. One Christ, many christs. Who are you? Who will you free today? Who will you heal? Who will you feed, clothe, comfort, visit? The Spirit of the Lord is upon you because He has anointed you to do His work. Find your strength in praising the Lord. Stand out as men and women given wholly to God. And serve the broken, the lost, and the fallen. Be a Christian. Better yet: be Christ!