Ever wonder what prompted the Evangelists to write their Gospels? Today we find out.
Gospel (Read Lk 1:1-4; 4:14-21)
In the introduction to his Gospel, St. Luke gives us a rare peek into what prompted him “to compile a narrative of the events” that Jesus fulfilled in the Incarnation. Apparently, “many” others had also written accounts of Jesus’ life. We know that only four were ultimately confirmed by the Church to be the inspired Word of God, authored by both God and man (see CCC 105). How did the Church identify these four as being “Scripture”? St. Luke gives us some insight here. The written narratives had to be faithful to the oral message handed down by “those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word.” In other words, before the written narratives, an oral tradition existed that came from the apostles themselves. Because Jesus commissioned the apostles to preach the Gospel and promised to send them the Holy Spirit as the guardian of truth (see Jn 16:13), any written document needed to faithfully retain what they had preached. There had to be a very close connection between the document and the eyewitness apostolic testimony. It was inevitable that the Church would want a written word to accompany the oral word. It had been that way in the Old Covenant—there was both tradition and Scripture. Likewise, in the New Covenant oral and written testimony together would confirm the miraculous work of Jesus.
Why did St. Luke decide to write another narrative, when others already existed? See that he was writing to “most excellent Theophilus.” This was possibly a Roman official who perhaps agreed to finance the publication of his work. St. Luke was the only Gentile author of a Gospel. It may have been his intention to write a narrative specifically for Gentiles. St. Luke was one of St. Paul’s companions on his missionary journeys. Most of the converts from St. Paul’s preaching were Gentiles, so St. Luke would have been very aware of the need to write a Gospel they could understand, even without being Jews. We know that he sometimes omits Semitic words, or simply replaces them with Greek equivalents, to make his Gospel more readable for believers unfamiliar with Aramaic (the language Jesus and the disciples spoke) or Hebrew. Before writing a new Gospel, however he investigated “everything accurately anew,” writing it down in an “orderly sequence” to assure Theophilus that “the teaching,” or tradition, he had already received was true. Here is another explicit statement that the writing of the Gospels followed the oral preaching done by the apostles, the “eyewitnesses.”
As Catholics, we recognize here the earliest suggestion that the fullness of Christian truth is expressed in oral and written form together (see CCC 76). St. John tells us that not everything Jesus said and did got written down because “the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (see John 21:25). The Church’s oral tradition, miraculously preserved and transmitted through apostolic authority and the Holy Spirit’s charism of truth exercised in it, enables us to know all that Jesus intended His Church to know of God’s Word.
The rest of our Gospel reading teaches us about the relationship between God’s written Word, the Scriptures, and Jesus, the Word Who became flesh and dwelt among us (see John 1:14). In the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus was given the Holy Scriptures to read to the assembly. Everyone in His hearing would have recognized these as God’s own words proclaimed through the prophet, Isaiah, and written down for His people to read long after he died. Jesus read them, then rolled up the scroll and sat down. Everyone waited to hear what He would say. They probably never expected what came out of His mouth: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” What did He mean?
Isaiah’s prophecy was about the Messiah who would come to bring liberation and healing from sin for God’s people. Jesus, in His Person as God’s Word in the flesh, was the Messiah for whom Israel longed and was, at that moment, beginning that work of liberation. The Living Word was right there among them! What a gloriously shocking mystery that was for them that day.
We should remember that at every Mass, Jesus does among us what He did in Nazareth. In the Liturgy of the Word, the Kingdom of God is proclaimed in the various lectionary readings. In the Liturgy of the Eucharist, that Word becomes Body and Blood. Jesus is in our midst. The Kingdom described in Scripture is now made present and given to us to receive into our own bodies (“the Kingdom of God is within you”; see Lk 17:21). What a gloriously shocking mystery that is for us today.
Possible response: Lord Jesus, thank You for being the fulfillment of all God’s promises. Thank You for still being in our midst at Mass.
First Reading (Read Neh 8:2-4a, 5-6, 7-10)
Our reading describes an event that took place when the Jews who had been living in exile in Babylon for seventy years were allowed to return to the Promised Land (about 515 B.C.). Both Jerusalem and the Temple had been destroyed, so there was a serious re-building campaign to attempt to restore them. The returning exiles wanted to renew their covenant with God, learning from their past mistakes and making a fresh start with Him. When the work was completed, Ezra, who was both priest and scribe, read to the people from “the book of the law,” which was probably portions of the first five books of the bible. The people rose to hear it read and explained. It had a powerful effect on them. They responded to hearing it as if God Himself was there in their midst—they stood at attention, they raised their hands in prayer and praise, “they bowed down and prostrated themselves” in reverence and worship, they wept in repentance over how inattentive they had been to Him. However, Ezra and Nehemiah, the government official who oversaw the re-building project, encouraged them not to weep: “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks…for today is holy to our Lord…rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength.” The Word of God was meant to have a liberating effect on God’s people, a liberation celebrated by wonderful food and drink.
In the Mass, the Word of God becomes Jesus’ flesh and blood on the altar, then is given to us in the food and drink of bread and wine. When we are in attendance, Jesus makes that day holy to us and gives us joy to be our strength, too.
Possible response: Lord Jesus, help me pay attention to every word of our Mass readings, for I know You are present in the words of Scripture.
Psalm (Read Ps 19:8-10, 15)
God has always meant for His people to love His Word. Here the psalmist writes about its perfection, refreshment, trustworthiness, wisdom, joy, and enlightenment. What wonderful praise for God’s Word! We should let our readings today invigorate our own love of Scripture, using the words of our responsorial antiphon: “Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.”
Possible response: The psalm is, itself, a response to our other readings. Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.
Second Reading (Read 1 Cor 12:12-30)
Perhaps this passage doesn’t seem to have an explicit connection with the theme of God’s Word in our other readings. However, in his practical exhortation to the Corinthian Christians to live in unity, even with their different spiritual gifts, St. Paul appeals to the lesson of Christ’s Body. St. John, in his Gospel, tells us that “the Word was with God and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (see John 1:1, 14). When the Word took on flesh, He became one human body. St. Paul reminds us that “we were all baptized into one body…and were all given to drink of one Spirit.” The one Word became one Flesh, and He is now one Body, His Church. Using the analogy of a body, St. Paul makes his case that God has ordered the different parts of the human body to work together as one. Thus it should be in the Church, too, which is Christ’s Body. In our unity, we continue to live as Christ lived in the world—the Word that became flesh in the Incarnation now includes our own flesh, too, and is dwelling among us still. We are one in Him.
Possible response: Lord Jesus, how easily I forget that unity in the Church is the visible sign that we belong to You. Please help me preserve it today.