Today This is Fulfilled: A RC Women Priest Homily for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jan 24, 2016
The readings for Sunday issue a call and remind us of how precious God’s Law and God’s word (Holy Scriptures) are. They show us a Hebrew people trying to preserve and fulfill God’s holy Law, reinstating and teaching the precious Law when the people of Israel are finally out of exile. The books of Nehemiah, the governor of Judah who depended upon God and rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, and Ezra, the Prophet who taught the people the Mosaic Law and codified it in about 464-423, (BCE-Before the Common Era) are thought to be one book divided. Together they tell the story of a faithful remnant of Jews restoring the Mosaic Law to God’s people. Psalm 19, the responsorial Psalm tells us that the words of our God are spirit and life, and the Ordinances just, giving wisdom to the simple and those who seek understanding. The Scriptures, written, and taught are life-giving-often through them we are called to serve. We see Jesus beginning his teaching and preaching in the Temple in Nazareth as he vows himself to be the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets-to live and embody the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah and the essence of the Law that mandated good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and a year of jubilee in which all debtors are forgiven their debts and can start over again. In Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 1:1-4 and 4:14-21) Jesus is reading the Scrolls that he has been given in the Temple in Nazareth and he is reading Isaiah 61:1-2 and 58:6.
(Some scholars say that probably Jesus could not read, but quoted this from memory. This speculation is a distraction from the meaning in the text and other scholars clearly see Jesus as reading from the Scrolls in the synagogue as was the custom. Jesus was the son of a tradesman who also had the trade of carpenter. Mary, his mother was thought by some in Catholic tradition to have been a temple Servant where she would have heard and learned the Scriptures. (taylormarshall.com/2011/12did-jewish-temple-virgins-exist-and–was-Mary-a temple-virgin.html.) Jesus spoke with authority in the Temple and amazed the rabbis at the age of twelve (Luke 2: 47, 52)). But read or recited, Jesus embodied the fullness of the Law and Prophets. Jesus’ call from his Abba God was to fully embody the Law of Compassion and Justice-to preach good news to the poor. Is this not our call too?
In Luke 4:14-21, Jesus announces his call, his ministry and his purpose: to preach the Good News to the poor and least powerful while opening the eyes of the blind. I had a career dedicated to service to the poor as a social worker and Professor of Social Work. But In 1981 and 1982 I wrestled with what God was asking of me. I was an Associate Professor at NYU School of Social Work. I lived in NYU housing and crossed Washington Square Park every day to teach my classes on Washington Square. But inevitably I stopped along the way to talk with the many homeless individuals including women, who slept in the Park. My heart was moved, my soul was stirred, my spirit was restless and I spent many a night wrestling with the Scriptures and with God. One night in 1982 The Isaiah 61 passage and Luke 4 spoke to me in a way that I understood as God’s call to serve the homeless. With much excitement I brought my Faculty friends together and shared my hope that we could “do something” about homelessness. We focused primarily on homeless women and the plan entailed the involvement of the NYC Department of Human Resources Administration on one level and my direct practice in women’s shelters on another level. It was this direct practice level that affirmed my call. I offered individual counseling and services and group counseling and heard the life stories of homeless women until I understood who “the homeless women” were-quite a diverse group. But when I went in the mornings the physically sicker women were still in bed, and they were clutching Bibles and rosaries. As I approached them they asked me to pray with them. I did and I read Scriptures with them and sometimes I sang hymns with them. I used all my social work skills as did my students and colleagues, but what God wanted from me was a return to faith and to preach good news to the poor and I could only do this by renewing and sharing my faith. I did, weeping tears of joy, and this began the realization of my call to serve the homeless that became lifelong, culminated in my ordination as a Roman Catholic woman Priest who would serve the poor directly and in my current Good Shepherd Ministry and Inclusive Catholic Community with co-Pastor Judy Beaumont. Through the words of Isaiah, the Holy Spirit called me even as Jesus was called. My life was totally changed, turned around. How precious are the Scriptures and our access to these sacred words.
In the middle of the picture below is Laura whom I first met in the East 3rd Street Women’s Shelter in 1982. The picture was taken last year and Laura continues to be my dear friend. On her other side is Danielle who shared in my ministry with the homeless and my life in the 70’s and early 80’s. We are enjoying a visit to Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn as three old friends. Judy Beaumont took the picture and is now another old friend for Laura. Laura’s story is a bit different as she is a traditional and devout Orthodox Jew, but she was alone and without resources or support after the deaths of her parents and the loss of an elderly woman she cared for. She was understandably depressed,anxious and terrified of leaving the Shelter and we worked hard an reconnecting her to her world and to a degree of autonomy. She eventually moved into a residence for people with such problems and has become a blessing there for so many others over the years. When people are discharged from hospitals and prisons with no clothes, Laura’s Boutique clothes them for free and her friendship mentors them. Hers is a life of mitzvot-selfless giving according to the Law that is a blessing to her and others. They know that she was where they are and they take heart.
Imagine living your life in exile, in a land that is not yours and not being able to practice the customs of your own land and the religion you love above all. Imagine being forbidden to read the Scriptures or even hear them, and to worship God in the way of your people, in the way that you know and love. This was the plight of the Jewish people in exile for hundreds of years. In the reading from Nehemiah (Neh 8:2-4a, 5-6,8-10) we see a people just out of exile struggling to reestablish their own precious understanding of God, their religion, their Mosaic Law, once again. We see the people weeping to hear their own Scriptures read to them by Ezra. The Scriptures were “interpreted” by the prophet Ezra, that is translated from Hebrew to Aramaic so the people could understand. And, the people wept for joy because they could finally hear and understand. This, to me, is the essence of good preaching and teaching, to put the words of God out to all, in the language of the people, in the language of their experiences as well, so they can understand.
I also imagine that some refugees and immigrants feel this way in a strange land-that their religious beliefs and practices are not welcome and should be hidden, even if it was their choice to migrate. But especially if there were no choices and if there was no religious freedom, people long to worship as they did in their own homelands. I know some devout Muslims even here in Florida who do not attend the Mosque so as not to bring discrimination down on their heads and the heads of their children. This happened after 9/11 but before the current terrorism of Isil. They practiced their religion and prayed as a family but did not feel comfortable at their place of worship. And now the discrimination against Muslims is so much stronger that even a Presidential candidate slurs and condemns a whole group and remains popular with a certain segment of the American people. I imagine if there were truly freedom of religion and freedom from oppression in all of America, some people would weep for Joy! How many levels of “to let the oppressed go free” are relevant to those of us who love the Law and love the Gospel! Oppressed religious minorities are among those that the Mosaic Law and the Gospel might set free, and Jesus came to do just this.
The reading from the letter of Paul to the Corinthians (1 Cor 12;12-30) establishes that we are all parts of the one body of Christ and that all parts are equal though quite different. We are all given unique and varying gifts to spread the Gospel, the words of God. If one part of the body suffers, all suffer, if one is honored, all share its joy. The likeliness of physical parts of the body to the body of Christ and even to all of God’s people is a good one-when my toe hurts (with arthritis) my whole body hurts. When any part of God’s people are hurt and not heard, be they religious minorities or sexual minorities, people of color or people of different lands, languages and cultures, all of us suffer. (Those in the Abramic tradition have so much in common it is sad to always dwell on the differences). We each have gifts to share so that the Law of Justice and Compassion can be shared, especially with the poorest and most disenfranchised among us.
With the help of God’s Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Wisdom, Sofia, Jesus had a special call and mission to fulfill. Both Matthew and Luke see Jesus as the Messianic fulfillment-see Matt. 11:4-6 and compare to this Gospel (Luke 4:14-21). In both Gospels Jesus is saying that he has come to fulfill and is fulfilling the Law and prophets that preach good news to the poor. He is the One who is expected. In the Gospel of Mark (1: 14) we also see that Jesus went about in Galilee proclaiming the Kingdom of God: “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe in the good news…” Jesus came to preach the good news, and to embody it. But what he was expected to do, he expects US to do. We are to preach Good News to the poor that will include them being poor no more as that is the essence of compassion, justice and mercy. We are not to say to the hungry and thirsty, be filled, go find water, but we are to give them food and a drink of water and a way to getting these basic rights. We are to act to change social structures that are victimizing the poor and those who are disenfranchised. In Fort Myers there is finally a statute that states people do not have to list felonies on job applications, for how will they ever pick themselves up if they are denied jobs? Certainly some employers will still do background checks, but hopefully a few more people will get a chance to work if they do not have to list past felonies. This is to preach liberty to the captives in a tangible way.
We are to share in the Mission Jesus outlines at the beginning of his Ministry in Luke 4 as the Spirit of the Lord is upon him. God’s Holy Spirit still rests on us and speaks today and it reminds us of the sacred Scriptures and the commands of the Law and of the prophets: we too are to bring glad tidings to the poor and to everyone!
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, RCWP
Co-Pastor Good shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community in Fort Myers, Florida
Listening to the Word at Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community