Gospel commentary: Called to be a friend of God

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Lk 1:1-4, 4:14-21

This Sunday gives us an odd set of Gospel readings, in that we hear St. Luke introduce his Gospel with his reasons for writing, and we immediately leap over the stories of Jesus’ childhood into one of the first episodes of his public life. Yet, despite the gap between the two passages, read today as one, they emphasize some similar things, in particular, the historical specifics of Christ’s life and action.

St. Luke assures us first that he is giving us the testimony of “those who were eyewitness from the beginning,” and that he has taken care to “investigate everything accurately.” We are told exactly where Jesus makes the claim to be fulfilling the saving prophecies. He is in “Nazareth, where He grew up,” “in the synagogue, on the sabbath day.” The whole story is set in a concrete place.

This may seem an obvious thing to point out, but the fact that we can include such historical specifics leads us to the heart of the joy of the Gospel.

For our joy consists in the fact that God has spoken to us directly, right where we are. In Jesus Christ, God has come close to us, to bring salvation a human voice and human acts, as a friend to a friend. If God had spoken only spiritually, or if he had merely inspired a holy book for convenient reference, leaving everything in the abstract, the Gospel would not have such a claim on us. We would be able to take or leave it, just as we take or leave any news story or opinion article, according to how they suit us.

But God is not abstract and does not speak in the abstract. Jesus chose that particular synagogue in Nazareth, those people assembled there. He read the prophecy of liberation and told them directly: “This Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing,” which is to say, “salvation has come to you right here and now.”

He continues to work in the same manner. Reaching out across history through his Apostles and all their converts, he tells us, person to person, “your servitude to sin is over, I have come to open heaven for you.” It is, in fact, God’s will that you, in this time and place, have heard the Gospel. It is addressed personally to you.

By way of example, we see that St. Luke’s own proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is directed to someone personally, that is, to the “most excellent Theophilus.” Though this may have been one of several historical figures — including perhaps the contemporary high priest in Jerusalem, Theophilus, son of the high priest Annas, who turned Jesus over to Pilate — the name was likely a literary device. Theophilus means “friend of God,” thus, Luke has written the account of God’s saving work in Christ directly to anyone who is called to be a friend of God, that is, directly to you. You are Theophilus. Luke may not have known you, but he still thought to give you a name, because the Gospel is for individual people living real lives, not for pseudo-saints who exist only in the imagination.

The question for us after reading this passage is: Do you believe that the Lord’s message of liberty and healing is for you in your own life, or do you still see it as essentially abstract? Do you believe that Jesus speaks to you exactly where you are, with concern for the unique struggles and contests you face, or not?

In truth, his word of salvation is precisely and specifically spoken for you, dear Theophilus. Do not be afraid to hear it.

Fr. Rampino is parochial vicar of Blessed Sacrament Church in Alexandria.

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019