January 24, 2016 — Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
“We are one body, one body in Christ:
And we do not stand alone.
We are one body, one body in Christ;
and He came that we might have life.”
That refrain above from the song written and sung by the Irish Catholic singer Dana echoes and reflects our Second Reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. In 1993 Pope St. John Paul II selected it as the theme of the World Youth Day in Colorado. It is, in effect, the message in our readings for this Third Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Our First Reading from the Book of Nehemiah presents us with Ezra, Prophet, Priest, and Scribe. There are many things that unite us as a Catholic and Christian Community. One of those is the Word. That is the gist of this reading. We are presented with the image of Ezra standing before the multitude and reading the Word of God. A Prophet not only predicted the future but interpreted current events with authority. We, as one body in Christ, the body of the Church, need to recognize in the Word both prophecy and interpretation. Ezra is a perfect witness for us, as he combines prophecy (Prophet), holiness (Priest), and knowledge (Scribe) in one person.
It is in the context of St. Paul’s remarkable letter to the Corinthians that we find the comparison of the Church to a body. Paul lays out for us the complete concept of what it means to be a steward of the Church and of everything we have and are. The Apostle Paul was the ultimate teacher, perhaps second only to our Lord and Savior Himself. As Paul explains it, the Body of Christ, the Body of the Church, is not a goal; it is a fact, a fact that we must completely grasp, appreciate, and practice.
Through Baptism we are called to be a part of the Body, and that calling includes our willingness and preparation to play our role, our vocation, in relation to the entire Body. St. Paul, by using the comparison to a body, points out that there is great diversity in the Body of Christ, the Church. However, each part of the Body, each of us as a member, has a function within our common goal. For Paul diversity is not just acceptable; it is essential. Each of us has different gifts, but working together the Body itself is strong. Every part is necessary. Each of us is necessary for the Body, the Church, to function completely.
You may be aware that our readings are divided into three Cycles, called A, B, and C. This year we are in Cycle C. In Cycle A the primary Gospel is Matthew; Cycle B is predominantly Mark; and this year the principal Gospel is Luke. Luke’s Gospel is unique in many ways. Most scholars believe that it was written after Matthew and Mark. In addition, Luke was most likely a Gentile, in fact the only New Testament Gentile writer. A companion of St. Paul, St. Luke presents himself differently as well. Twice in the first sentence of today’s Gospel reading Luke uses the pronoun “us,” a clear indication that he considered himself one with all of us, a part of that Body of Christ.
It is important that we appreciate the perspective of Luke as we hear his Gospel in the coming year. Luke is interested in prayer; he is interested in “preaching the Good News.” Twenty-five times in his Gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles (also attributed to Luke) he mentions this; it is only mentioned once in the other three Gospels. Most of all, as we begin the accounts of Jesus through Luke’s eyes, we need to know how St. Luke embraced the idea of one Body in Christ. Being willing to do our part is important to stewardship. Dana’s song closes in this way, “For you are my body, you’re my hands and feet. Speak my word of life to everyone you meet.” We are called.