Jan 26, 2013

3rd Sunday: A Mission Impossible?


Nh 8: 2-4a, 5-6, 9-10
1 Cor 12: 12-30
Lk 1: 1-4; 4: 14-21

Many of us may remember the 1960’s television thriller called “Mission Impossible.” Certainly we all know of the most recent Hollywood take offs on this same show – aka Tom Cruise who starred in the recent movie versions by the same name.

The main premise began with a secret government agent (Mr. Phelps) and a tape recorder which would explain the mission he was to accept. It would imply danger and covert activity to find and eliminate the bad guys which always led to the use of technological wonders in his mission.  The agent was reminded: “Your mission, should you decide to accept it . . . “then would go on to describe that secret mission. At the end of the description, the tape destroyed itself in a matter of seconds with a puff of smoke in order to eliminate any evidence this agent was offered.   

The first point of the spy thriller was that an agent was chosen, made an offer and the mission itself would prove to be both dangerous and exciting. In the end what seemed impossible considering the odds would eventually prove once again that good guys win! I don’t recall hearing if the agent ever rejected the mission he was offered.

This Sunday we hear of another potential mission impossible.  Jesus appears at the beginning of his ministry after a period of travel around Galilee and, as was his custom, he enters the synagogue of Nazareth his home town one Saturday, the Sabbath. There he stands up to read, is handed a tape recorder (no a scroll of the prophet Isaiah actually) and reads of his mission:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor . . . to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord . . .” (Lk 4: 18-19). Will he accept this mission from God?

Jesus well knew by this time that he was called and sent, assigned as it were, to fulfill a mission greater than any other ever given.  Our first reading from the book of Nehemiah speaks of a scene where the prophet Ezra reads the word of God to the people who reacted by weeping for they may have recognized in the sacred law their own unfaithfulness.  So too did the crowds in the synagogue react impressively to Jesus’ own word.  Unlike the people who heard the prophet Ezra read to them of a law separate from himself, however, Jesus’ reading of the prophet Isaiah became his own fulfillment.

He had been baptized in the Jordan; the Spirit appeared and compels him to go, as Luke makes the point in his Gospel today. In this reading of the prophet Isaiah, he proclaims to the assembled community, many who knew him as a former resident of Nazareth. Many knew his mother Mary and presumed father, Joseph: “Today, the Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Lk 4: 21).

For the early Christians of St. Luke’s time, as he writes at the beginning of his Gospel today, he wants to assure his hearers to, “. . . have certainty of the teachings you have received . . .” (Lk 1: 1). It is nearly fifty years since Jesus appeared by now, many of the eye witnesses of Jesus have died, and it is essential as the Christian body grows that they have a record of who Jesus is and the mission he was to accomplish. How they as believers can be “certain” that their faith is based in the Apostles teaching which is founded upon Christ Jesus and his mission – impossible though it may have seemed at times.

What was it about Jesus tone of voice, posture, gestures, or his facial expression that so impressed his crowd?  I have always wondered and have come to believe there is no doubt Jesus’ presence was indeed charismatic.  Not in the way we speak of sports heroes, Presidents or Movie stars being “charismatic” but about him must have been a spiritual presence which convinced the crowds he was either all he claimed to be or he was mad and delusional. Both opinions circulated about him which made his mission at times seem controversial if not nearly up against impossible odds.

In this Gospel today, which comes shortly after Jesus’ baptism by John, Jesus in a sense gives it all he’s got.  In essence he says, “This is who I am; this is my mission,” and we can embrace his good news or reject it.

Jesus preaches not in a fashioned hell fire and brimstone manner but in a way that promises good news – the Gospel.  He speaks being sent by the Spirit as the anointed one (Messianic imagery) to bring good news, to proclaim liberty, recovery of sight, and freedom for the oppressed, and to proclaim a year of favor.  This is good news!

In our own call to mission we carry on this same good news.  More and more today the message of the Church is pushed aside – why? Does it make many uncomfortable?  It is too challenging?  Out of touch? Too unrealistic and old fashioned?  Yet the Church is about good news. 

Our teachings on the dignity of the human person, on respect for freedom of religious expression, on the sanctity of marriage between a man and woman and the fundamental balance in family life, about the option for the poor and marginalized, and the defense of the vulnerable and the defenseless is good news. 

Yes, we have been labeled as bigoted, narrow minded, authoritarian, and absolutist.  But the position of the Church is to guard what has been revealed to us as absolute truth.  To “stand in the synagogue” as it were and proclaim what God has revealed to humanity.  In the midst of today’s culture, as Jesus did, we don’t pound people senseless with the message or use threatening tactics and lay upon the faithful unreasonable laws and regulations.  In the end the good news is announced and all are invited to embrace what is proposed. 

Our celebration of the Eucharist calls us to unity as the Body of Christ we hear in the second reading.  In the gathering each Sunday we see visible what God has done and how we are all called to live lives of holiness and proclaim that the same Spirit which compelled Jesus to carry out his mission, also carries out that same mission of Christ in and through us.

This Sunday we may want to ask ourselves what about the mission of Jesus seemed impossible at times.  What about my mission as a Catholic Christian feels impossible?  What sort of odds am I up against?

This past week we marked the terrible decision of the Supreme Court from 1973 which made the evil of abortion rampant across this County.  To date nearly 55 million unborn children have been eliminated.  That is almost the total population of New York and California combined!

How am I fulfilling the mission of the Church, which is the mission of Jesus himself? In the end we believe that with God nothing is impossible.