There was once a quiet man. He was a priest, and he was most of all a scholar. He trained in Rome, and he was a bookworm, occasionally writing articles on theological topics of the day for specialty publications. He wasn’t thought a very forward man, not someone who enjoyed confrontation other than intellectual sparring. There were honors, he was well known in select circles, and the day came when he was elevated to a very high office in the church. Then, shortly after a big event in his life, a dear friend of his was murdered under suspicious circumstances. The quiet man started asking questions, and found no answers; he found that even some of the people that traveled in the same circles that he did were covering up the answers that he sought. So the quiet man reached a turning point in his life: reluctantly he began to speak out, and speak out forcefully on behalf of others. He received persecution, death threats, and eventually he was murdered himself. But Archbishop Oscar Romero remains an icon in the struggle for justice in Central America.
The turning point in his life was the death of his friend, the Jesuit priest. He felt he was in a position as the newly consecrated Archbishop to find out what was going on in his country, and he was opposed by some of the people who supported his appointment. That event turned him from a quiet scholar into a spokesperson, a zealot, a prophet, a martyr. He didn’t like confrontation in the flesh at all: he was very human and very queasy when confronted with evil, but he hung in there, thanks to support from above.
Today’s Gospel is about a turning point. Jesus comes home to Nazareth after a significant absence. The people here are people who know him, have known him since childhood, his relatives are there. They know him as a carpenter, actually the word meant: worker in hard surfaces. That could be a carpenter, a sculptor, a stonemason, or even a construction supervisor. They knew him as a working man: educated a little (he’d studied the Torah from childhood), literate (which was unusual for the times), but one like them. He had gone to John the Baptist like many people had, perhaps some folks from his town, he had traveled around Galilee as an itinerant preacher, but Jesus wasn’t unique as an itinerant preacher. Jesus comes home and does a rather ordinary task: any male can read the Torah portion in a synagogue service. He probably had spoken on the reading before also, that role may not have been very limited, and of course he had just gotten back from a preaching tour. Can you imagine the electricity in the air?
And what does he say? Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. What the heck was that supposed to mean? Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. The promise of God for the Messiah is fulfilled in your hearing. What a concept. God’s promise isn’t a dream, it’s sitting right here in the flesh. The turning point. From now on, Jesus isn’t the regular guy from Nazareth anymore. His road takes him away from Nazareth, and toward Jerusalem, toward the Passion and beyond.
Today we are beyond the turning point, we have accepted Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophecy of God’s promise fulfilled in our hearing. We have accepted Christ among us: we bear the mark of the one who died for us that we received when we were baptized. Sometimes we tend to forget that. Even someone who was a great champion like Archbishop Romero, who fought evil, had his moments of doubt, of fear, of embarrassment of the commitment that he made. It can be very tempting to walk out that door and pretend that we have never passed a turning point, never been affected by what we’ve seen and heard fulfilled in our hearing.
We are the body of Christ, as Paul describes so beautifully in today’s second reading. Each of us have a part to play, no matter what we do. It doesn’t matter who the stars are, I’m not particularly more important than the people who teach in the school or who answer the phones, or even sweep the floors. It is as a whole that we are the promise of God at work in the world. Toward the end of his life, Archbishop Romero said that there was a possibility that he would be killed, but he hoped that those who would want to kill him would realize how futile that would be. They could only kill a bishop, but the work of the Church would go on.
The work of the Church will go on. The Body of Christ will still be active in the world. The Word will still be fulfilled in our hearing, in the hearing of the world. We can be a little frightened by that, we can feel uncomfortable with this responsibility. That’s a lot for one person to carry for themselves. But that’s not what we’re asked to do. We are called to gather at a table, to share the Body and Blood of Christ, and then take what we’ve experienced and go into the world to be what we are. We are called to be Christ’s hands and heart, whether we feel ready for that or not. We are the body of Christ.