under the patronage of Saint John Henry Newman
Local Time29/01/2022 12:28 am
22/23 January, Third Sunday after Epiphany/Per Annum
“In the one Spirit we were all baptised and one Spirit was given to us all to drink.”
When the locals gathered in that synagogue where Christ spoke the words ‘today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’ they could have had no notion about the revolution they were going to see. They would have been raised from their earliest days hearing the stories of God – hearing of his Law, the way to stay in a proper relationship with him; of the way that he chose the sons of Abraham to be in a special covenant with him and saved them from the enemies on so many occasions; of his prophets who constantly called Israel back to its faithfulness to God. They knew these stories well; they would have known those lines from Isaiah well – but they could not have expected how fully they would be fulfilled in Christ.
Hundreds of years before, God had inspired Isaiah to speak of what the Messiah would be like. Along with others he was playing his part in getting the people of Israel ready – if they knew what he would be like, then they could recognise him. Here he stood in front of them, whether he was genuine or not could be seen by how he measured up to those prophets and what they said about him.
Isaiah gives a general list of what the Messiah would do. He would preach good news to the poor, proclaim release to captives, and so forth. We know that in each case Christ did exactly that. But there is more, a broader sense – in each case the Messiah is bringing God’s healing into a broken situation; and in this wider way too Christ fulfilled the prophecy. Wherever he went, as long as the people would receive him and accept his message, God’s peace, God’s healing, God’s love would be brought in.
This isn’t something which ends with Christ’s earthly mission either. He passed that very same mission onto the Church. The Church is his body, and we are called to fulfil that mission of carrying God into our world. Christ began by noting that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and this sits alongside what S. Paul also said to those Corinthians (and through the same letter to all Christians) – by our baptisms and confirmations we have been given the same Spirit. Obviously, for us it’s a bit different – for Christ, as he was God, that Spirit is simply who he is; for us, it’s part of the great gift of God’s grace given to us so that we can have his strength to live well with him, to build a solid and close relationship with him, and to carry out the mission which we have been given.
When S. Paul first wrote those words, they would have sounded shocking to many. Everybody has been given the same spirit – whatever race, whichever sex, whatever social rank or position, that doesn’t matter. What matters is God’s spirit being given to us. God’s spirit works to draw us all together as the Church – the body of Christ – and works within us so that we can pursue and fulfil that mission which God has for us.
That mission is largely the same now as it was when Isaiah first wrote about it – preaching good news to the poor, release to captives…bringing God’s healing to every broken situation which the world has. As we look at the world around us, we don’t have to look very far until we see so many places where that healing from God is so desperately needed.
We have that mission because, as the Church, we are Christ’s body, and it was his mission – so it has to be our mission too. But that doesn’t mean that we all have to work in the same way. That’s what S. Paul is telling us – there are a whole array of different ways to work and assist in the mission of the Church. If we are the body of Christ, then we need to have all of the different parts of the body. Our human bodies simply wouldn’t function without all of those different parts. When Christ called us to come together, when he gave us that spirit from God, it wasn’t so that we would all become the same. Just as our bodies have those different parts which all work together to make sure that we can do what we need to as people; so too the Church has all sorts of different parts, working in different ways to make sure that Christ’s mission is carried out.
What’s important is that we are called together by the spirit. That we are united to God, and through him to one another. Seeing in others, and their different gifts, a complementarity, not a rivalry. When S. Paul wrote to those Corinthians it was a very dysfunctional community which he addressed. They had all sorts of divisions and problems, which is why he had to write to them. They were not allowing themselves to be gathered together by the spirit, they were allowing their own preferences to come before God. S. Paul was emphasising to them, and to us as well, that we have to allow that spirit of God to work in us. If we do, then the various ways that we are all different will work together – and by working together will continue to carry out that mission of Christ’s to bring God and his message of healing to all around us.
May we all be open to the working of the spirit within us. May we listen to the voice of that spirit which guides us as the people of God, as the body of Christ; and so, may we preach the good news to the poor, new sight to the blind, and the year of the Lord’s favour to all.