Jesus in the Synagogue in Nazareth, Greg Olsen.
[Jesus said] The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor. Luke 4:18.
Jesus is reading from 61st chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah. This passage was sung at my priestly ordination in 1979, clearly remembered to this day. It is a summation of what we are to be in the eyes of the Lord:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
In the case of Jesus, it was literally true. The good news he brought is that we, even though all of all of us are poor in the eyes of God, are all still sacred in the eyes of God; indeed, we are children of God. Jesus had the divine power to free those imprisoned by disease, mental traumas, paralysis. His greatest teaching to all of us was that death is not the end of all, but the beginning of all, because the Lord’s “year” of such a favor is forever. And having completed the reading he announced that all of this was to be accomplished through him. In a sense it inaugurated his teaching career (with the marriage feast at Cana inaugurating his physical ministry). So, we might ask, how are we called to do likewise? Because that is exactly what Jesus expects each of us to do. We are, after all, christ to the world, as was explained two weeks ago.
Well, we have a very large clue in the second reading today. The longer reading (we have a choice today) reveals one of St. Paul’s greatest inspirations, we Christians as the Body of Christ. I believe this sprang directly from the dramatic event which resulted in his conversion. St. Paul was a very clever man. Earlier, when he was called Saul, and when he was a totally dedicated servant of God, he considered the upstart and heretical group, who claimed that Jesus was the Messiah, should be destroyed. Well he virtually succeeded in this in Jerusalem, and had received permission to go to Damascus to do the same there. While on the way, the event happened. He was thrown from his horse amid blinding light (in fact, he was blinded for a time) and then a voice from the heavens asked “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts of the Apostles, 9:4; we celebrate this feast on January 25). Well that event transformed his life, and he ever afterwards talked about his shame on trying to destroy God’s community, But the words must have sunk in: “Why are you persecuting me?
How could he persecute the voice from heaven? Not possible, unless…. I think that was the source of his revelation that we are the Body of Christ. When any one of us is persecuted because of the Lord, the Lord is persecuted. Hence we must constitute Christ’s body. So, what follows? Well, the body has very many parts, as Paul says in the second reading today, some perhaps more “honorable” than others. But, he says, each part is essential for the health and operation of the body, so it is silly to say one is more “honorable” than the other. Translating this into the modern day, for example, is it more important to be a brain surgeon than a garbage collector? Clearly both have essential work to do. We would be in peril if either of these vanished. Each of us has been gifted by God in various ways. It is our duty to recognize what these talents are, develop them into skills (that’s what education is all about), and put them to use in serving others. In that way we can fulfill Isaiah’s words from today’s gospel, and so we become christ to the world. Let’s expand this a little. Say you bang your little toe against the bedroom door frame getting up in the morning. Agony, right? But it’s only a little toe! Yeah, right. But it signifies how the body is one, and even if something considered insignificant is hurt, the whole body still reacts.
So it should be with all Christians, the Body of Christ. If a Christian is persecuted in any way in any part of the world, the whole body should react accordingly to put it right. That’s what it means to be a Christian. If we hear an appeal from the pulpit to help a food kitchen or a hospice or a far away famine or any other of the myriad Christian charitable actions we are involved in, then we should react accordingly to put it right. It’s part of who we are. And don’t forget that it’s not all misery and appeals by any means. Look at today’s first reading. Here we have God’s prophet Nehemiah reminding them that the Lord’s day is a day of rejoicing, even to the extent to “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared”. As God’s children we should show a happy face: Pope Francis even recommended extraordinary (and ordinary) ministers of the Eucharist should smile when distributing communion! It is, after all, the culminating moment for every person present. Always remember that the word blessed ultimately means happy. What a nice note to end on!
Here is an example of the Christian response to situations where Isaiah’s teaching is most evidently needed and implemented: