Sunday Scripture: Promise and fulfillment
By Terrance Callan
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time: Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10; 1 Corinthians 12:12-30; Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21
Promise and fulfillment is a prominent theme of the Bible. The Bible is filled with promises God made to people. It is also filled with descriptions of how God has kept many of those promises. Knowing that God has kept promises in the past makes us confident that God will continue to keep them in the future.
The reading from the Book of Nehemiah tells the story of an important moment in the history of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Babylonians had conquered Jerusalem in 587 BCE and sent some of the conquered people into exile in Babylon. When the Persians conquered the Babylonians in 539 BCE, the exiles were allowed to return to Judah and some did so. About a century later, Ezra led another group of Jews from Babylon to Judah. He was empowered by the Persians to teach and enforce the Jewish law. He began to do this by reading the law, i.e., the Scriptures, to the people, as we are told in the reading from the book of Nehemiah.
When the people heard the law, they wept. Perhaps hearing it reminded them of the ways they were not living up to it. But Ezra told them, “Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength.” Rather than simply being saddened by their failure to keep the law, they should rejoice in God’s promises to save them that it contains.
The reading from the Gospel according to Luke presents Jesus as the fulfillment of those promises. The reading consists of the first four verses of the Gospel, which are a prologue to the whole Gospel, along with the beginning of the story of Jesus’ visit to Nazareth, His hometown.
The prologue to the Gospel describes the Gospel as “a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us.” It says that the Gospel is intended to show “the certainty of the teachings you have received.” The Gospel will show that what has been said about Jesus is reliable by showing that Jesus truly did fulfill the promises God made in scripture. When the reader sees that Jesus is the one whom God promised to send, then the reader will know that Jesus is the Savior.
When Jesus visited Nazareth, He announced His fulfillment of Scripture. After reading in the synagogue a passage from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Jesus said, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus’ fulfillment of this passage tells us who He is: the one anointed by the spirit of the Lord “to bring glad tidings to the poor … to proclaim liberty to captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.”
The reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians speaks of a further dimension of this fulfillment. Now that Jesus has come in fulfillment of God’s promises, all who believe in Him have been baptized into the body of Christ. Through the Spirit we are united with Jesus and one another as the parts of a body are united. Like the parts of a body we are all different, but mutually interdependent. We all need each other. None of us can say, “Because I am not like the others, I am not really part of the body.” Nor can we say, “Because others are different from me, I don’t need them.” No part of the body is self-sufficient. It is only when all work together that the body is whole.
Callan is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio/Mount St. Mary’s Seminary.