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The Sabbath, Then and Now

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

Today is the Sabbath. Today many of our Jewish brothers and sisters will go to their local synagogue to worship. The traditional Sabbath worship service includes a reading from the Torah, a psalm, and a reading from the prophets. The order for this service may have been based on the passage from the prophet Nehemiah which we, Catholic Christians, will proclaim as the first reading tomorrow.

The Gospel for tomorrow records that Jesus went to the synagogue of Nazareth "as was his custom" on the Sabbath. There is a slight problem with this. It is anachronistic. We know from historical records that the Sabbath synagogue service did not appear until the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, at least thirty or forty years after Jesus' return to the Father. The Israelites of Jesus' time did not have a Sabbath synagogue service to attend.

It is fairly obvious that Luke has included a detail from his own time. He was not Jewish; he was a Gentile. The first four verses of his Gospel, which will also be proclaimed tomorrow, indicate that he is recording the events of Jesus' life not as an eyewitness but as one who has investigated the evidence and set it down as a narrative. Any good narrative needs details to keep the story moving forward. Luke, who probably wrote after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, places Jesus in the synagogue on the Sabbath because this is the reality that Luke lived in his own time.

What difference does this make? How does knowing this bit of historical fluff make a difference in our lives? The point is this. Jesus had impacted Luke's time just as he impacted his own time. Jesus also impacts our time. He is as relevant today as he was for the time of Luke and his own life time. Accommodating Jesus' story so that it fits into Luke's time does not falsify or lessen that impact. We must do the same thing. Our preaching must make Jesus and his message alive for our time. Jesus came to open our eyes to the truth that God's reign IS in our midst.

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