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Commentary to the 3rd Sunday in ordinary time-Year C

Fernando Armellini - Sat, Jan 22nd 2022



The God of Israel “speaks and it is done” (Ps 33:9). The idols of the pagans instead “have mouths but do not speak” (Ps 115:5). They are unable to help, protect, or perform miracles. The word of man may be far-fetched (Job16:3); that of God is instead always “living and effective” (Heb 4:12). It is like “the rain and the snow that come down from heaven and do not return without watering the earth, making it bring forth and sprout” (Is 55:10).

The word of God does not act magically. However, it is equipped with irresistible energy and, when it falls on fertile ground when accepted with faith, it produces extraordinary effects. “Truly blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it as well” (Lk 11:28). The privileged place for this hearing is the community meeting.

On the ‘Day of the Lord,’ the Risen One addresses his word to the assembled community. The Christian who does not feel the inner need to join with the brothers and sisters to listen to the voice of the Master can be sure: something has cracked in his relationship with Christ.

Already in the early centuries, the reminder was repeated insistently: “Do not let the need of your temporal life precede the word of God, but on Sunday, putting aside everything, hurry to the church. Indeed, what justification can be submitted to God by the one who does not go on this day in the meeting to hear the word of salvation?” (Caption, II, 59.2-3).

Among the faithful, if indifference, disaffection, and listlessness in attendance at the Sunday assembly have infiltrated, this should not be attributed only to the laity. Some improvised, low in spiritual content, tedious, and sometimes even depressing homilies also have their share of responsibility. Today’s readings invite all to reflect and review their relationship with the Word of God.


  • To internalize the message, we repeat: “Your words are a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”



First Reading: Nehemiah 8:2-4a,5-6,8-10

Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly, which consisted of men, women, and those children old enough to understand. Standing at one end of the open place that was before the Water Gate, he read out of the book from daybreak till midday, in the presence of the men, the women, and those children old enough to understand; and all the people listened attentively to the book of the law. Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that had been made for the occasion. He opened the scroll so that all the people might see it—for he was standing higher up than any of the people—; and, as he opened it, all the people rose. Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people, their hands raised high, answered, “Amen, amen!” Then they bowed down and prostrated themselves before the Lord, their faces to the ground. Ezra read plainly from the book of the law of God, interpreting it so that all could understand what was read. Then Nehemiah, that is, His Excellency, and Ezra the priest-scribe and the Levites who were instructing the people said to all the people: “Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep”—for all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law. He said further: “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our Lord. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!”—The Word of the Lord.

It has been over one hundred years since the people of Israel returned from exile in Babylon, but they have not yet managed to reorganize their life. Anarchy is total: theft, harassment, violence, and oppression against the poor are committed. To remedy the situation becoming more chaotic, the great King of Persia, Artaxerxes, on whom Palestine depends, sends to Jerusalem Ezra, “the priest and scribe, learned in the commandments and laws of the Lord” (Ezra 7:11). He immediately realizes that the riots are due to the lack of fidelity to the law of God. The people did not observe it because they did not know it. So, what to do?

On New Year’s Day, Ezra brings the law book before the assembly of men and women and all those capable of understanding, and he proclaims it on the square before the Water Gate (vv. 1-2). Let us examine in detail the way he organizes this celebration. He summons all persons able to understand in a holy assembly and, “from early morning until midday,” he makes them read the book of the law (vv. 2-3). No one is missing, no excuses to stay home to take care of their affairs.

The sacred author discloses this unanimous response of the people to inculcate the importance of listening to the Word of God. Israel is aware that faith would weaken without regular participation in the community assembly and end up disappearing. The concern of Ezra is the same one that has driven the shepherds of the early Church to call their faithful: “Do not abandon the assemblies as some of you do” (Heb 10:25).

The Liturgy of the Word cannot be improvised. Ezra knows it; in fact, he perfectly organized it without neglecting any detail. He chooses the place of the meeting carefully. The “Water Gate” is well-suited for the purpose because it is away from the city's noise, offers good acoustics, and allows one to have listeners on a kind of amphitheater.

He makes them prepare a wooden platform so that the reader finds himself in a high position and could be seen by everyone without requiring contortions or continuous and annoying movements of the head (v. 4). He also chooses well-prepared readers who also have a good voice.

The ritual begins solemnly: Ezra, standing up, opens the book prayerfully. The people immediately stand up to venerate the sacred text. The blessing is pronounced, and the people answered, ‘Amen! Amen!’ Then they all kneel and prostrate themselves (vv. 5-7). These are gestures that create the ideal climate for a ‘religious listening’ of the Word. The one who participates in the celebration must sensibly perceive that he is not in front of a book but before the Lord who speaks. Body position, gestures, and attitudes both listeners and the presider must express this fact and dispose of oneself to accept the living God's message to his people. No one can disturb, get up when he wants, and chat. The celebrant must be careful not to get distracted, make wrong interventions, confuse pages, and make meaningless gestures. Although devoid of any form of pomp and bombast, the celebration of the Word needs a sacred, respectful, and solemn context.

Finally, the reading is not enough. God’s Word is effective only to the extent that it is understood; this needs to be interpreted and explained using simple language understandable to everyone: the intelligent and the ignorant, the educated and the illiterate (v. 8). Hence there is a serious responsibility incumbent on those who make the homily. The homilies of Ezra and Levites get good results. The people scrutinize conscience and realize that they are not faithful to God’s law and manifest their repentance with tears (v. 9).

But the people are reminded that the day of encounter with the Word of God is always a feast (v. 10). The certainty that God continues to speak, accompany, and guide his people is a source of great joy. This is also manifested outwardly with songs, dances, food, and drink more abundant than usual.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31

Brothers and sisters: 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. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.

Now the body is not a single part, but many. If a foot should say, “Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. Or if an ear should say, “Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended. If they were all one part, where would the body be? But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.” Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary, and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor, and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety, whereas our more presentable parts do not need this. But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.

Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it. Some people God has designated in the church to be, first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers; then, mighty deeds; then gifts of healing, assistance, administration, and varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work mighty deeds? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? —The Word of the Lord.


To show to the Corinthians that the gifts of the Spirit must not lead to competition and rivalry, but unity, Paul introduces this very known image in antiquity: the community is like the human body, made up of many members, each with its function. Each body part is essential, none can be despised, and no one can replace the other.

This comparison was used to convince subjects and slaves to submit and to serve their masters. Paul uses it in a completely different way: he explains that all members of a community are on the same level and enjoy the same dignity. If they want to keep a hierarchy—he says—they must show more respect for the weak and prioritize the poorest (v. 22-24).

A graded list of charisms is presented in the last part of the reading (vv. 28-30). It is perhaps no surprise that “to govern” occupies only the second-lowest. The previous—as expected—is reserved for the “gift of tongues.”

So, what are the most important gifts? A step above the others is those related to the announcement of the Word: the apostles, the prophets, and teachers (cf. Rom 12:6-8; 1 Cor 12:8-10; Eph 4:11). This does not mean that those who perform it merit more respect, are entitled to privileges, honorary titles, and bows ... . It is the ministry itself that is most important. There is no doubt that the announcement of the Word occupies the first place because it is the Word that gives birth to and nourishes the faith and life of the community (Rom 10:17).

Gospel: Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21

Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news of him spread throughout the whole region. He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all.

He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”—The Gospel of the Lord.


Adapting to a literary process among the classical authors of his time, Luke prefaces his work with a prologue (Lk 1:1-4). It is an introduction in which, without mentioning his name, he presents himself, declares the purpose that he proposes, and sets out the criteria that will follow in the composition of his Gospel. He wrote some fifty years after the events. He alone among the evangelists says explicitly that he does not belong to the group of those who have personally met Jesus of Nazareth. Then a question spontaneously arises: can we trust what he says? This, in short, is his answer: anyone can talk about Jesus, even if he was not a direct witness of the facts, as long as he is faithful to the tradition. Let us clarify.

We are in 80 A.D., and the Gospel has already been announced in the Roman Empire; everywhere, communities arose. Many have also begun to put in writing the sayings of Jesus and episodes of his life. From what religious movement does such great success originate?

Facts happened among us, Luke says (v. 1). These are no dreams, no philosophical doctrines, no esoteric revelations, but facts, actual events that have Jesus of Nazareth as the protagonist. What he has done and taught had eyewitnesses who—as John says—“saw with their own eyes” and “touched with their hands” (1 Jn 1:1-4) and later became “ministers of the Word.” Mind you, not “owners,” “masters,” but “servants of the Word” (v. 2). These are not inventors of stories, not cheaters greedy for money, but people who have dedicated their lives to faithfully proclaiming what they have seen and heard. They even preferred to die rather than betray the message received from the Master.

Many have attempted to compile a narrative of those events. Luke also decided to start writing on the subject. He does not discredit the work of those who preceded him but prepares an orderly account of what his communities need.

Which method did he follow? He made accurate research of every circumstance. He turned to the first witnesses, so all the disciples who read what he writes will be sure to base their faith on solid statements. He says that he is clearly and decisively led by a single concern: to transmit faithfully what has been delivered by the “ministers of the Word.” He does not invent anything; he established the truth of the facts since the beginning, that is, from the childhood of Jesus (v. 3).

The goal for which he writes is to give a solid foundation to the faith of Christians of his communities (v. 4). The truths of the faith cannot be proven with conclusive evidence; however, adhesion to Christ has nothing to do with gullibility, not a naïve choice made by ignorant people willing to accept all fairy tales uncritically. There are good reasons that lead us to believe, and Luke wants to expose them.

A word also on Theophilus. It was the custom of the classical authors to dedicate their work to those who sponsored them. The scrolls were expensive, and for a Gospel, twenty kids’ skins are needed. Then he had to pay the calligraphers who received little more than a laborer but were slow; finally, the book's author had to earn a living. Luke had an admirer, Theophilus, probably a wealthy Christian in Asia Minor who had agreed to cover all expenses. In gratitude, the evangelist mentions him in the prologue of the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.

Three chapters separate the second part of today’s passage (Lk 4:14-21) from the first. It is the beginning of Jesus’ public life in his country, Galilee, and the narrated episode—which Matthew and Mark place around the middle of their Gospel—is for Luke the programmatic overture, the synthesis of all the activities of Jesus.

It is Saturday, and people go to the synagogue to pray and hear the reading and explanation of God’s Word. A rabbi organizes the meeting, but every adult Jew may be invited to read and discuss the scriptures. The homily is pretty straightforward: it is enough to memorize the explanations and comments made by the great rabbis and refer to their opinions. No one is so presumptuous as to dare to add his own interpretation. As he is accustomed to doing, Jesus unites with his people and acts as a reader.

The liturgy begins with the recitation of the Shema—the profession of faith of the pious Israelite. It continues with the eighteen blessings introduced in the central part of the celebration, the reading of two texts of the Scripture: the first taken out of the book of the Pentateuch (Torah), and the other from the Prophets. The person who reads the second text usually does the homily. The ambiance is of recollection and prayer; people are willing to hear the Word of God, and Jesus takes this opportunity to launch his message (v. 16). Luke highlights some particulars, not for the sake of historical scruples, but to convey theological messages.

The first detail, seemingly superfluous, is: Jesus opens the book that was presented to him. The evangelist wants to make it clear to his readers that without Christ, the sacred text is a closed book, the oracles of the prophets, and all the Old Testament books remain incomprehensible. Only he can make sense of them.

After reading, Jesus rolls up the scroll, delivers it to the attendant, and sits; all eyes are fixed on him. The rabbis explained the Word of God while sitting. Assuming this position, Jesus is emphasizing that he has become the teacher. It is an invitation to focus the gaze on him and not on others. The holy books of the Old Testament are meant to lead to him. Once this is achieved, they can be rolled up.

The chosen text is taken from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and new sight to the blind; to free the oppressed and to announce the Lord’s year of mercy” (vv. 17-19). Who is the person charged with bringing good news to the poor? Who is Isaiah talking about? The prophet refers to a character that God sent about 400 years before Christ to comfort the children of Israel who returned from exile in Babylon.

They lived in the dramatic situation described in the First Reading explanation: the rich exploited the poor, the owners did not pay their workers, and the strong dominated the weak (cf. Is 56:10–57:2). In this historical context, a man imbued by the Spirit of the Lord is sent to proclaim the ‘year of grace,’ ‘jubilee,’ the time when all debts are forgiven, ending all forms of slavery and re-establishing justice.

Today—Jesus begins to proclaim—“these prophetic words come true” (v. 21). He does not comment on the text of the prophet but reveals its fulfillment. Today begins the year of grace, the endless feast for everyone because to everyone, salvation, free and without conditions, is announced in God's name.

The Hebrew word used by Isaiah to indicate the release of prisoners is ‘deror,’ meaning release from what prevents one from running fast. Today the word of Jesus begins to free us not only from diseases—which are a sign of a decrease in life—but from all the psychological and moral barriers that do not allow us to go forward and inhibit impulses of love. The tangle of uncontrolled passions that cause people to fall back on themselves in the pursuit of self-interest, the thirst for possessions, the frenzy for power and success are chains and barriers. These barriers begin to be crushed today. The irresistible force that breaks them is the Holy Spirit (v. 14), who is at work in Jesus not only when he performs miraculous healings but also when, with his powerful word, he breaks the bonds that envelop and keep people in the state of slavery (Lk 4:36).

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