January 23, 2022
The following homily, based on the same readings we have today, was originally delivered in January 2013:
In professional sports, there is an expression – “Next man up.”
When you play in the NFL, everyone on the team practices every day. However, only the best 11 are on the field at any one time, so the others wait for their opportunity, never knowing if or when that time will come.
You hear the success stories all the time. A star player gets hurt and some guy no one has ever heard of steps onto the field, plays a great game, and leads the team to victory. He was the next man up, he was ready, and he responded.
Fear and doubt were there, but his joy, exhilaration, and preparedness allowed him to do the job he was called to do.
When couples exchange wedding vows at the altar, they promise to love one another in sickness and in health. The fact is, as they say those words, they are likely thinking it will never happen to them.
Then a long-term, debilitating disease comes along, and both are challenged – one by the disease itself, the other by the prospect of caring for her spouse, possibly for the rest of his life…until death do they part.
One spouse can no longer care for himself. Maybe it’s as simple as bringing him the remote or helping him out of the chair, but it might be more profound. He might need to be dressed and fed. She might need to be bathed, including fixing her hair just the way she likes it. They took the vows, they have had years to prepare, so when it happens, it’s next man up.
I have had the privilege to witness loving couples go through such hardships. I saw how one spouse got past the fear and doubt, and allowed love and a servant’s heart to do the work necessary. They were not only living out their wedding vows; they were also living out the Gospel message. Scripture was fulfilled in their actions.
There are times when I read a Gospel passage that I wish I could have been there. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall in the synagogue in Nazareth the day Jesus was handed that scroll. He opened the scroll and read a Scripture passage from Isaiah: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.
The Gospel tells us, “the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.”
There was electricity in the air. Something big was happening. Then Jesus said, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
He basically told them, “What I just read is about me. It is happening right now. Christ is among you right now.”
Can you imagine what must have been going through the minds of the people in the synagogue that day?
This man grew up right here in Nazareth. He’s the man we’ve had our eye on because of all the odd things he has been doing – eating with sinners and tax collectors, healing on the Sabbath. This man is telling us He is the Christ
I’m sure there was a whole range of thoughts and emotions coursing through the synagogue
Fear – What if what he is saying is true? I have been waiting and preparing, but am I ready to meet Christ today?
Doubt – How can this be? I was expecting God’s anointed one to ride in on a white horse, a king to save his people, not this simple preacher.
For some it may have been joy. Finally he has come! Praise God!
Jesus said, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled.”
The word “today” is a powerful word. “Today” means there is no more time left, no more waiting: It’s here. It’s now.
In a very real sense, as we participate in Mass this weekend, and every weekend, this Scripture passage is once again “fulfilled in our hearing.” The same Jesus who fulfilled the prophecies of Isaiah comes to us and is truly present to us in the Eucharist and in the Word
How do we respond to that kind of news?
In today’s second reading, Paul writes to the Corinthians: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, now the body is not a single part, but many. You are Christ’s body…”
If we are truly Christ’s body, then Scripture is being fulfilled in us today.
When Jesus was in Nazareth, he was physically present. He himself served the poor, gave liberty to captives and sight to the blind, and sought to free the oppressed.
Today he is physically present through us. We are the hands and feet of Christ.
We are the body of Christ. We are called to do the work of Christ on earth.
It is our responsibility now. We are the next man up.
We may be experiencing the same range of thoughts and emotions as the people did in the synagogue so many years ago.
Fear: Why me? Why today? What is the urgency?
Doubt: Am I really expected to do the work of Christ? How is that possible? I am not capable. I am not worthy.
Or joy – What a gift to be called upon to do God’s work!
This news that we hear today, that Christ is among us and that we, His body, are called to do His work, brings us to a crossroads.
Which of these thoughts and emotions will we allow to direct us? Will we do nothing out of fear…panic keeping us frozen in our tracks? Will we be hesitant, allowing our doubts to convince us we are not capable of doing God’s work? Or will we allow joy to bring us to full communion with Him, fearlessly taking on His work with a servant’s heart?
Go ahead a take a minute to think about it, but don’t delay too long. Scripture is being fulfilled by your actions today.
You’re the next man up.