Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21
The Inaugural Address by Rev. Paul Scalia

Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.

Since many have undertaken to complete a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the world have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news of him spread throughout the whole region.  He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all.  He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the Sabbath day.  He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.  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.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.

Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.  He said to them "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing."

We always attach particular importance to a president’s inaugural address.  That speech captures the newly sworn-in president’s intentions and purpose for his term.  It sets the tone and charts the course for the next four years.  So we make special note of the words and remember them.  In the case of Abraham Lincoln’s two inaugural addresses, for example, we have even seen fit to set the words in stone and place them in his memorial.

We can understand Our Lord’s address in Nazareth (Lk 4:16-21) in the same way.  These words are the first of His public life as recorded by St. Luke.  And they have the tone of an inaugural address.  Unlike the other Gospel writers, who record Our Lord’s first public words at the Jordan, St. Luke begins with a more formal setting.  Our Lord begins His preaching not at the riverside but in an official house of worship.  He observes the formal Sabbath custom by accepting the invitation to read from the prophet and to address the assembly.  They had already heard about His preaching and miracles from the surrounding countryside (cf. Lk 4:14, 23).  Now they want to hear from the man Himself.  To set the tone and chart the course for His public ministry (His administration, as it were), Our Lord does two things: He selects a text and He interprets it.

First, the text.  No one chooses the passage for Him.  He Himself unrolls the scroll and finds the passage (cf. Lk 4:17).  He chooses a passage well known to His listeners, a prophecy about the Messiah.  In this He resembles other speakers.  It is a common rhetorical device to quote or appeal to a text or phrase familiar and important to the listeners.  So Our Lord, in choosing this verse, puts a prophecy about the Messiah right before them: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me” (cf. Is 81:1-2).  He heightens their expectation of the Messiah.

Then, having called the Anointed One to their minds, He interprets the passage authoritatively and definitively.  The authority is indicated by a little detail: “Rolling up the scroll he handed it back to the attendant and sat down” (Lk 4:20).  We might think that he sat down because He had finished.  On the contrary, He sat down in order to begin.  To begin teaching,  In that culture, teachers did not stand but sat (as Jesus would sit to preach the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Mt 5:1).

Thus conveying His authority, He then gives a definitive interpretation of the text: “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21).  Up until His reading of it, the passage from Isaiah was an unfulfilled prophecy.  It was provisional, incomplete, pointing to something that would eventually occur, to someone who would come.  Now, however, Our Lord brings the passage to completion, to fulfillment.  Having heard Him say, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me,” the people have heard the Messiah – the Anointed One – Himself.

In this regard Our Lord’s inaugural address differs from all others – and the difference reveals His greatness, His singularity.  His address does not give detail about what He will do but about who He is.  At an inauguration we expect to hear a lot about programs, policies, procedures, protocols, etc.  But Our Lord does not discuss any such thing.  Rather, He points to Himself.  He has not come to create a program.  He has come to create other christs.  He has not come to propose some truth or way of life apart from Himself.  He has come to propose Himself as “the way, and the truth, and the life.” (Jn 14:6)

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