“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.” Luke 4:14-21.
A “prequel” is a work, typically a novel, play, or film whose story precedes that of earlier work. We’re accustomed to movie sagas like “Star Wars,” or the many installments of Dickens’s works that told of the “back story” to a character like Oliver Twist. Last evening, I had the opportunity of attending the student performance at Santa Catalina of “Peter and the Starcatcher” by Rick Elice based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. Our upper school students were most effective in telling an earlier tale about Peter Pan and how he was given the name, met up with a gang of Pirates, and landed on Neverland. So this is a prequel to James Barrie’s earlier novel and play, “Peter Pan, and the Lost Boys.”
In a sense, these Sundays of a new year are prequels that glimpse into the early ministry of Jesus. You will recall last week, as we considered the transforming of water into wine, and how this abundance provided drink for the wedding feast, and even for those not invited might share in this miracle.
Today, we have a window into Jesus’s hometown of Nazareth and how he opened the scroll in the fashion of the teachers before him to say some very remarkable words: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.” In both, the marriage feast at Cana and his visit to the synagogue are prequels that respond to the question on the minds of so many, “Who is this Jesus of Nazareth?”
Now in this episode in Jesus’s life, we witness his bold and authoritative voice, the words of a young man speaking on behalf of God in his own time and for all times.
In the tradition of the prophets before Jesus brings what the gospel calls “good tidings” or “good news.” In Luke’s gospel, we read that the evangelist is writing to an individual whose name is the “most excellent Theophilus.”
You may wish to call him Phil or Theo, but the name in Greek curiously means: “Friend of God” and draws on the Book of Wisdom, where it is written: “Blessed are those who are friends of God.” So in a fashion, all creation and all creatures are “friends of God.”
In the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, five centuries before Christ, these men knew oppression. They were given the once in a lifetime opportunity to return to Jerusalem to reclaim their land and temple. Today, we read about Nehemiah, the governor of Judea, and how he rebuilt the temple wall, a holy of holies, the source of great blessings, and the cause of rejoicing over this great accomplishment.
So much so they hold a festival, and the priest/scribe Ezra encourages: “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared, for today is holy to the Lord. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength.”
Despite the times in which we live, with the sudden and unexpected news that can paralyze our thinking and future promises, what are the sources of our joy?
What makes us able to reflect optimism from the core of our being? What or who are the people that make you laugh and tell a good joke even at their own expense. That humor and joy from within can be a healing balm at a time when you’re hurt emotionally or estranged and feel the need for encouragement.
Today, Saint Paul reminds us that we, too, are “friends of God,” as we are members of one another in Christ. We have the remarkable joy of serenity here on campus when we turn to one another for support, maybe a fellow student or a member of the faculty or staff, and parents who love you very much.
There is a famous model for this joy, namely Christ, who has reclaimed life in all of its conflicts and even death itself, so to heal our lives, and become the cause for daily prayer, personal blessings, and deep joy.
That kind of joy in our lives is something to stand up and shout about!
As my teacher, Father Jim Turro, once wrote: “It seems only fair that we who have known some joy and peace within the experience of our faith should make this happiness reach further to others.”
Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA