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!"(P) The word of the Lord.
The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul; the decree of the Lord is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple. (R)
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the command of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eye. (R)
The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the Lord are true, all of them just. (R)
Let the words of my mouth and the thought of my heart find favor before you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (R)
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?(P) The word of the Lord.
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."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me,
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.
"Amazing Grace" is perhaps the most famous and best loved hymns of the last two centuries. It was written by John Newton, an Anglican priest and former slave trader. Newton was born in London in 1725 to a devoted Christian mother and a sea captain father. His mother taught him to read the Bible, memorize Christian hymns and took him to a church regularly but sadly she died when he was seven years old. For six years after her death, Newton grew up under the more distant care of his father and stepmother who had no spiritual interest. At the age of eleven he started his career at sea and accompanied his father on several voyages until he was seventeen.
In 1743, when he was on his way to work as a slave master on a sugar plantation in Jamaica he was forced to work on the ship. Later on at his own request he was put on a slave ship to West Africa which ultimately led him to become captain of his own slave-trading ship. On board the ship he was known for blasphemous language and repugnant behaviour. He ridiculed and mocked the Christian faith. He rejected Christian teachings and dissuaded others from their beliefs. He was ruthless and unkind to sailors and slaves which he himself admitted much later in life. But the turning point of his life came when he was twenty three, and his ship met a violent storm at sea.
When Newton and his crew had little hope of survival, his thoughts turned to Christ for deliverance, and no doubt they did survive because of it. Another time, when he became ill with a fever, he asked for God's mercy and was cured. At this point he began to read the Bible and other religious books, and professed his belief in Christ. After his conversion, he tried to set a good Christian example for the sailors under his command and began to encourage them to turn to prayer. He also saw to it that both sailors and slaves under his care were treated humanely. In spite of his Christian conversion, he continued being a slave trader. In 1754, after a serious illness, he gave up seafaring altogether and eventually became an Anglican priest in 1764.
While being a priest he deeply regretted his involvement in the slave trade and joined others in the fight for the abolition of slavery. However, he never ceased to be amazed by God's grace. When he was eighty two he reflected on his past and said, "My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things: "I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great Savior." He wrote over three hundred hymns and the hymn "Amazing Grace" reveals the struggle as Newton made a transition from unbelief to belief, from ignorance to truth, from darkness to light and from death to life.
Newton's story is a story each of us can relate to. We are spiritually blind and lost and separated from a holy and righteous God because of our sin. Everyone is in need of redemption and true liberation. Even the worst of sinners can ultimately and meaningfully repent, and even the most half-hearted of believers can over time become full-fledged true believers in God.
God provides the redemption and liberation that we all so desperately need through His Son Jesus Christ. In today's gospel, Luke (4:14-21), Jesus describes His Messianic mission. On the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue in his hometown, Nazareth, as was his custom to worship. He was given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah which was written 700 years before his birth. He read the well-known Messianic prophecy from the prophet Isaiah (61:1-2), "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 sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year of acceptance to the Lord."
When the prophet proclaimed these words he was referring to his own mission. His mission was to announce to the Jews in exile that God would soon bring great blessings through the Messiah. But when Jesus was reading the prophecy, He was announcing that He is that person. And after reading it He told the people that this prophecy had been fulfilled there and then. In other words, Jesus is God's promised Messiah and, He has been anointed to help those most in need in society - especially those who are poor, the captives, the blind and the oppressed. His last statement, "to proclaim a year of acceptance to the Lord", most likely referred to the Year of Jubilee, which the Jews observed every fifty years when slaves were freed, debts were cancelled and lands returned.
The life of John Newton and today's gospel teach us that only in Jesus Christ is our redemption accomplished and our true liberation achieved. Because the mission of Jesus was not only to liberate us from all infirmities, diseases, troubles and anxieties but also to redeem us from sin and the power of darkness. After Jesus' death and resurrection, it was appropriate that what he had said and done continued to be carried out faithfully on this earth by his disciples and the early Christians.
As believers in Jesus Christ, today, we have been drafted into the unique mission of God. But the mission is not just the duty of a few trained people - Pope, bishops, priests, nuns and lay missionaries - but all of us have the duty to spread the good news, give witness to the gospel and carry out the mission of Jesus faithfully. Therefore, first and foremost, we must constantly renew our commitment to God. Because following Jesus Christ requires transformation in our thoughts and actions. Secondly, we must reach out not just to people who haven't heard about Jesus but also those who have lost their way. In our own families and communities and social circles there are people who need to be freed from the clutches of evil tendencies such as envy, selfishness, hatred, anger, greed, and many bad habits and people who are in need of sight. We must watch out for one another and help one another to walk in faith and receive the promises of God. Thirdly, we must not fail to help all those who are afflicted by human misery, because in them we see the poor and suffering image of Jesus, the Messiah. Let us, with all our power, serve our God with faith, love, and constancy.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!