3RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR C ON JANUARY 23, 2022 (R. 1: Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19:8, 9, 10, 15; R. 2: 1 Corinthians 12: 12-30; Gospel: Luke 1: 1-4; 4:14-21)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
ELEVATOR SPEECH: NO TIME TO WASTE!
Today’s gospel passage draws my attention to the concept of elevator statements or elevator speech. An elevator speech is a short description of an idea, a product, a profession, or a company that explains the concept in such a way that the listener is able to understand it within a short period of time. It is a persuasive statement that sparks interest in what a company does; it is a statement that is short, yet has all that is needed for a total stranger to understand what you are talking about. The concept of elevator statement has a very interesting origin, but I’m not going into that now. I like to see the elevator statement this way: it is like getting into an elevator with a total stranger and using the short period of time in the elevator to explain a particular concept. For example, I am a hospital chaplain. Sometimes, someone walks into me in the elevator, a total stranger, and the person sees my badge as a chaplain, and the person says, “Oh, chaplain! What does that mean?” Whatever I am able to say within the short period of time in the elevator to give a full picture of who I am and what I do as a chaplain is an example of the elevator statement.
How does the elevator speech connect to today’s gospel passage? The gospel passage is taken from the beginning of the gospel according to Luke. Here, we encounter Luke presenting his own elevator statement, telling us what he is out to do in the gospel. In his elevator statement, I find two important components, which answer two questions. First: to whom? Second: for what? To whom is this account of the gospel addressed, and or for what purpose? Luke tells us that it is addressed to the “Most Excellent Theophilus. Who is Theophilus? Many scripture scholars have tried to give different suggestions, and these suggestions can be divided into two groups. The first group sees Theophilus as a proper name referring to somebody who lived once upon a time, and they have given different possibilities of who Theophilus was. The other group says that Theophilus does not refer to a specific human being, especially considering the Greek meaning of the name. Theophilus means “God-loved” or “Loved by God,” which implies a friend of God. So, according to those in this group, Luke was addressing the gospel to all those loved by God, that is, to all Christians.
The next part of the elevator statement of Luke addresses the question of the purpose of this gospel. Luke explains that the purpose of the gospel is to make his audience certain of the things they have heard about, namely the words and the deeds of Jesus. Luke, who wrote this gospel passage was not one of the apostles and probably did not have any personal encounter with Jesus while Jesus was going about his public ministry. Luke got to know of all he knew through other sources, through those who were eyewitnesses, those who saw and heard Jesus. Luke wrote the account of the gospel about 50 years after the public ministry of Jesus, so it was from those who encountered Jesus directly that he gathered this orderly account, and the reason for putting them together was to bring about certainties. He wanted his audience to be certain that all they had heard about Jesus was true and not just something made up from nowhere.
Apart from Luke in the gospel passage, Jesus also presented his own elevator statement. Jesus in the Synagogue opened the scripture and read from Isaiah from where he read his elevator speech. There are two important points in his elevator speech. First: the authority behind what he was doing. Second: the mission. The authority came from God. He said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” Regarding his mission, he said, “He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor… to set the captives free…”
So, we have seen the elevator speech of Luke the writer of the gospel according to Luke, and we have also seen the elevator speech of Jesus. Luke made it clear that the things he wrote about, the words and the deeds of Jesus were not just random, but that they were the fulfillment of the things God said in the past. Jesus came as the fulfillment of what God had already prepared from the Old Testament. In our first reading today, we read from the book of Nehemiah, and there, the priest, Ezra gathered the people and he read to them from the book of the law. The people relied on the book of the law in the Old Testament. Jesus came in the New Testament to fulfill what God prepared from the Old Testament and Jesus presented himself not as one who came to destroy the Old Testament, but as one who came to fulfill the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, the emphasis was on the letter of the law, in the New Testament, the emphasis is on the spirit of the law. Jesus has been empowered by the Spirit, and Jesus has come to move us from the letter of the law to the spirit of the law. The spirit of the law is love. It is love that brings about freedom. And that is the mission of Jesus, the good news, to bring about freedom to those who were held captive. The letter of the law enslaves, while the spirit of the law, which is love, brings about freedom.
Unfortunately, up to this day, people still see religion as something that is burdensome, people still see religion as something that enslaves. This calls us to examine ourselves and to ask: what do I do with religion? How do I relate with religion? Does religion set me free or does religion enslave me? Jesus has brought about our freedom, but Jesus does not impose it on us. He respects our free will. The call on us is to connect with the freedom, which Jesus has brought to us. Any observance of the law, any religious act, any form of worship that enslaves people is not part of what Jesus has brought. Any form of observance of religion that brings about people feeling burdened, people feeling enslaved, is not in any way connected to what Jesus has brought.
Ultimately, Jesus has brought freedom, Jesus has brought good news and he is Good News himself. He has also given us the responsibility to continue that by becoming good news to others and by setting others free from slavery.
And so, my dearly beloved in Christ, as we reflect on these elevator statements of Luke and Jesus, we pray that God may grant us the grace to key into the foundation that has been laid by Jesus, so that at the end of our sojourn here on earth, we may all be recognized as those who have worked with and worked for Jesus, through Christ our Lord. Amen.