Jan 23, 2016

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - "Today"

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me . . ."

I’m not revealing anything we all don’t already know but we are in a year of unprecedented political gymnastics for who will be our next President.  No matter how we may personally feel about the ultimate choice we look forward to hearing the inaugural address of our new President next January.  He or she will establish a vision for America with lofty goals and promises for this Nation.  There have been memorable quotes taken from those speeches over the years. President John Kennedy’s “Ask not what your Country . . .” is likely one of the most quoted in recent times. 

Although we may sarcastically say that such promises and dreams are easy to say but hard to achieve, all we can do in the end is hope that things work out well.  When words are spoken and promises made we hope that action will follow if they are for the common good of all. 

This Sunday we hear another inaugural address of sorts - in this case, from Jesus himself. Yet, unlike our own flawed Presidents, the words Jesus uses hold a unique power of their own. His word is solid; his word is deeply personal and his word has a power of its own. The chosen reading from Isaiah handed to Jesus in the synagogue is one well known to the people. It foretold the mission of the great prophet and a year of favor granted by the Lord in which all debts are forgiven.

Jesus now personalizes that same passage. Then, ends it abruptly and we can imagine the audience was stunned by Jesus’ claim – “is fulfilled in your hearing.” In fact the timing of it could not have been more dramatic and the operative word here spoken by Jesus was “Today.”

Unlike our Presidents who promise to do many things Jesus was as good as his Word. In fact, he is the Word. In ancient times the spoken word was the main means of communication and people listened to and directed their lives according to what they heard and saw.  Unlike our present day in which we have multiple ways to communicate a message, in the times of Jesus it was the spoken word alone that bore its weight on everything from politics to religion.  The response of the people in the synagogue who are poised to absorb every word Jesus says – “The eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him” – is supportive of this truth. And it reveals the already praise of Jesus brought to the hungry ears of his own citizens in Nazareth.

The first reading from Nehemiah and the reading of the sacred law by Ezra the scribe with rapt attention from the crowds further enhances this message.  The crowds – “bowed down and prostrated themselves before the Lord, their faces to the ground” is an impressive reverence for that sacred word.  

So, our Lord speaks: “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”  Bomb dropped!  And for us today who hear this passage read, it is designed to have the same effect on us. We too should be called to attention.  The Gospel passage ends abruptly this Sunday for this reason for this same word is alive and present to us today, in the here and the now.  Our response is not one of “same old, same old” but as if we hear it for the first time as did the crowd in the synagogue.  But, what was at the heart of Jesus’ words today; the core of his “inaugural address?” – the poor.

He reads:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor . . . liberty to captives . . . sight to the blind . . . the oppressed go free.”  Special preference from God, through Christ his word, is to the poor, the unloved, rejected, forgotten, the removed from society – the poor among us.  Is this not the same of what our Holy Father Pope Francis has reminded us over and over again?  It has nothing to do with politics but is far removed since it is at the heart of the Gospel message.  Good news means that we are set free, given dignity and worth, loved and forgiven, no longer abandoned and shunned but now included among the family. It is God himself who calls us back and heals a broken and disconnected world.  This is Jesus’ mission and by association as his followers, ours as well.

St. Paul reminds us today as he did his own Corinthian Christian community, that “You are Christ’s body, and individually part of it.” The diversity of the Church and its unity is created not through our efforts but rather is formed and shaped by the Spirit of God for we too are anointed in Christ at our Baptism and we too are sent forth to carry on the same mission which Christ inaugurated. 

Yet, considering all the challenges in the modern world that is a daunting task and we well know that it is not consistent with what we often hear and see on our evening news. But imagine the time of the early Christians living under a hostile pagan government with despotic and power hungry rulers whose single word was law with Christians being targeted for bloody persecutions at times.  By comparison our lives today have far more advantages to carry on this mission. 

Today – now – this moment we can fulfill what Jesus himself began.  Healing a broken world is ultimately God’s work but as his hands, feet, eyes, the many parts of his Body in the world, we can do our share in building up his Kingdom. 

St. Teresa of Avila famed Spanish Carmelite mystic and Spiritual Doctor of the Church from 16th century composed a beautiful prayer which states this fact:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

May we carry out his mission – Today.