In our Gospel reading for Sunday (Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21), Jesus goes to Nazareth, “where he had grown up,” enters a synagogue and takes a scroll from the prophet Isaiah. He finds the passage where it says: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me 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.” And then he says something which I imagine must have startled all who were there: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
I think it may have startled those in the synagogue because the people faced many hardships. In other parts of the Gospel, we know that Jesus looked upon the people with compassion because they were like “sheep without a shepherd,” and here Jesus says that a prophecy promising freedom and healing has been fulfilled in their hearing!
How would we react if Jesus spoke those words to us today? Can we believe that 2019 could be a year “acceptable to the Lord?” With all the division and violence and poverty and oppression we see in our world, could we believe in all that God promises through the prophet? If we can bring ourselves to trust in God and to surrender to God’s will, we can experience “recovery of sight,” because we can see that God loves us so much! We can experience “liberty” from being captive to addiction and self-centeredness.
We can be freed from the lies people tell themselves and each other. What do I mean? In our second reading from 1 Corinthians (12:12-30), St. Paul uses the image of a human body to speak about the Church, and I would extend it to the wider community. So Paul writes: “Now the body is not a single part, but many. If a foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,’ it does not for this reason belong any less to the body.” We see many people who don’t believe they belong. They tell themselves they’re not worth anything because they are different from others, or because they can’t do what others do. These are the lies people can tell themselves. Some sociologists might say that this is the legacy of prejudice and oppression, where people are fed a steady diet of being told they are “less than.”
St. Paul goes on: “But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I do not need you.’” This is the flip side of what Paul says earlier. This is where discrimination and even genocide come in because one group of people has decided that another group of people is not worth paying attention to, or even living. These are lies that people say to each other.
Both sets of lies come from a blindness to God’s love. The way we can do our part to give “recovery of sight to the blind” is to share the love of God in Jesus Christ, even to the point of loving our enemies. We can practice empathy for each other, when we can live out the attitude expressed by Paul: “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.”
This kind of empathy and love is not easy. We will fall short. But we need not despair. In our first reading from Nehemiah (8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10), the people have worked to rebuilding Jerusalem, and when they finish the wall around it, the high priest Ezra reads to them the lay handed down by Moses, and the people begin to weep, because they realize their sin. But Nehemiah and Ezra tell the people to celebrate, because the day of their repentance, their turning back to God, is “holy to the Lord your God…Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!”
As parts of the Body of Christ, we are called to work together and proclaim the Good News. We are called to love as Jesus loves, and help give liberty to those who are captive to despair and self-hatred, to work for justice and free the oppressed, and help others recover their sight so that they can see the truth that God loves them and all the world, including those who are “other.” We do need each other as we need the grace of God, to do this work.
May we be instruments of a “year acceptable to the Lord.” I welcome any comments or questions. Thanks for your time.
Fr. Phil, CP