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MONDAY HOMILY: Jesus and the Synagogue

By Fr. Stephen B. Reynolds
September 2nd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Jesus' participation in the synagogue and Temple rites served to emphasize the importance of divine worship and the absolute necessity of entering into communion with God.

CATHOLIC ONLINE (Sugar Land, TX) The synagogue emerged as an important expression of Jewish identity during the Babylonian Captivity.  The Temple having been destroyed, and a number of the Chosen People having been sent into exile, a new institution emerged that proclaimed, taught, and preserved the Word of God.  Even a small village like Nazareth had its own synagogue, which Jesus attended.

"Jesus. went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day" (Luke 4:16).  At first glance, there is nothing particularly notable about this observation.  Like all the faithful Jews of his village, Jesus observed the holiness of the sabbath by participating in the ritual of synagogue worship.

Upon reflection, however, we cannot help but to see this event as something extraordinary.  Jesus did not need to visit the synagogue - or even the Temple - in order to worship his heavenly Father.  As the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, Jesus lived in perfect union with the Father and the Spirit.  No human action on his part could add anything to the communion that exits between him and the other divine Persons.

Even in his humanity, Jesus did not "need" the synagogue.  Remember the words of John the Baptist at Jesus' baptism.  Reluctant to baptize Jesus - since he did not need the repentance which John's baptism signified - Jesus said to his cousin, "Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting to fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15).

Jesus was not baptized for his sake, but for ours.  By being submerged in the waters of baptism, Jesus sanctified them for those who would follow.  In a similar way, Jesus' participation in the synagogue and Temple rites served to emphasize the importance of divine worship and the absolute necessity of entering into communion with God.

On this particular occasion (Luke 4:16-30), Jesus not only enters the synagogue, but he approaches the bema (or bimah) where the scriptures are read.  Taking the scroll of the Torah, Jesus reads:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me." (Luke 4:18).
Taken from the prophecy of Isaiah, these words were always understood by the Israelites as pointing to the Messiah, the promised one who would save Israel.  Applying this passage to himself, "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:21), Jesus publicly identifies himself as the Christ, and that the messianic era of salvation has arrived.

The reaction of the crowd is mixed.  Some note the eloquence - the "gracious words" - of Jesus' commentary.  Others find it hard to believe, knowing Jesus only as the son of Joseph, someone whom they had known for years and whom they had seen grow from a small child to manhood.  The majority reacts violently, wrongly judging that God's honor has been compromised by the supposed blasphemy of Jesus.  Despite their attempts to kill him by throwing Jesus off a cliff, he remains in control of the situation and walks away unharmed.

The people of Nazareth who reject Jesus make a huge mistake, fueled by their ignorance.  "Since they did not understand Christ who had been anointed and sent by God. they returned to their usual ways and said foolish and useless things about him" (St. Cyril of Alexandria; Commentary on Luke, Homily 12).  Living in willful ignorance is the moral equivalent of closing our eyes and ears to the truth.  Jesus is rejected because to accept him would have required a change of heart and habits. 

The same is true for us.  Following Christ will cost us.  Sometimes it will cost us mightily.  But the reward will always be great, because even when we have laid aside much that is good, we will have received him who is the best - the origin, perfection, and fulfillment of all things.  That is a bargain we should always be eager to make.

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Fr. Stephen B. Reynolds is the Pastor of St. Theresa Catholic Church in Sugar Land, Texas. You are invited to visit them on the Web at: www.SugarLandCatholic.com.

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