Third Sunday of the Year
Jesus’ words today are his first in Luke’s Gospel and caused quite some commotion in the community. Luke begins by pointing out that the driving force in Jesus life reflects God’s passion for people. An awareness of the direction of the Spirit is necessary because, as Jesus’ followers, we are implicated. Anointing by the Spirit for Jesus and for us will push us into the world seeking justice and peace. It can be risky! ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in their own hometown’ (Lk 4:24).
To show us what it looks like to love what God loves and to see ourselves as God sees us, we understand there is no long a ‘them.’ Only an ‘us’. This constitutes a recovery of sight to us who are blind. There is no reference to religion or worship which can create their own walls. It communicates liberation, hope and compassion for people who made poor and marginalised by neglect. ‘The spirit of the Lord is on me, for he has anointed me to bring the good news to the afflicted. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord’. Jesus reads a very short and disturbing teaching from Isaiah. It is a clear message of liberation and nurturing love for all creation with a special focus on the poor, the deprived and the oppressed. If Mary had been present, she would have given approval to his words which reflected the words when she sung the Magnificat, with Jesus in her womb, of the God who scatters the proud and brings down the powerful, a God who lifts up the lowly and fills the hungry with good things. Jesus was already marked by Mary’s radical words about the God of mercy who turns the world right side up. If Mary had been in the crowd, unlike the people gathered she would have been unsurprised by Jesus’ message. Jesus made Mary’s words flesh and we are to give flesh to his words and incarnate his heart in our lives.
The Spirit that came upon Jesus as the peaceful dove at his baptism sends him toward people who are poor, those most in need, most oppressed, last chosen, the unlovely, the despised and unseen and most humiliated. It is a blueprint for our presence and action. It does not support the status quo, but an edgy advocate who shakes up our comfort zones to find new ways of being one people, one community. It cajoles us to be prophetic and in solidarity with people pushed to the margins of church and society, family and nation. This is God’s option and God’s passion which we must bring into our world. Though it is a white dove of peace it can be more like the pigeons in our towns and cities that disrupt, discomfort and irritate.
We cannot proclaim Jesus as the Christ, or the importance of religion and worship, if we are not led to defend vulnerable people or stand with people who are forgotten or excluded. Jesus could today be saying that he has been sent to bring release to the captives who addicted (drugs, alcohol, social media or mobile phones); to take away feelings of worthlessness in people who are depressed; to bring freedom to people wrongly incarcerated by the justice system, especially people of colour, First Nations people and people detained for many years without having committed any crime, and to open our eyes to how we are blinded when we desire cheap goods produced by bonded labour or overlook the injustices just mentioned.
Jesus offended people by reminding them that God’s sense of community is wider than theirs. Jesus’ mission statement goes with John 10:10: ‘I have come that you might have life and have it to the full’. There is an inbuilt resistance to things that disturb us. People were offended by stories that God passed over those who thought they were special and chosen and ministered to people from the wrong side of town or even an enemy such as Naaman the Syrian. It is so annoying to hear that those we consider enemies are God’s friends or that God loves those we will not sit with!! Jesus was not telling them something new. The people knew these stories but did not want to acknowledge them and often used them to close ranks on outsiders or used as weapons against those not ‘like us’. So the favourite son soon becomes an offensive stranger who should be killed.
Paul reminds us that the Christian community is like a body. At the most elemental level we know that no part of our body is more valuable than another. No part is expendable. It is true for the church, for our world and for us. Paul’s world was defined by class distinction, racism, tribalism and nationalism. People prided themselves on their separation from others which tore at the fabric of social unity. Tribalism is still alive and well today. It is divisive. Separations exist based on religion, ethnicity, sexuality, gender and trauma from the past. This is the world God loves and is acting in today through us. God’s reign is activated when Jesus' agenda becomes our agenda. Today’s gospel does not does not speak of projects, issues, campaigns or structures but of bringing liberation, hope, light and kindness to people on the edges of society. February 8, is the feast of St Josephine Bakhita, born in Darfur, Sudan, and patron of human trafficking survivors after herself being sold into slavery as a child. Pope Francis has called human trafficking a scourge and deep wound upon the Body of Christ where certain parts of the body are abused and exploited for profit. They are bought, sold and discarded because they are seen as ‘less than.’ Paul reminds us today, ‘If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it.’ And the suffering is enormous where more than 40 million members of the Body of Christ suffer under this scourge. The gospel today, and the sentiments of Mary’s Song (the Magnificat) today is another call to action where people are enslaved, abused and exploited under any circumstances.
Jesus is speaking to each one of us. ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon you’. Each of us has been anointed for this. We need to put on the agenda what is off the agenda for the well-being of our sisters and brothers in this 2022 election year - care of the aged not only in institutions but also families, asylum seekers in foreign detention centres or those in limbo and impoverished in our country; incarceration of juvenile Indigenous people; care of the earth and people who are houseless. Jesus announced release from socio-economic bondage and opposed policies that maintain oppressive systems. He still opposes those through us. Though people courageously and generously stand with people who are trafficked, the houseless, refugees and asylum seekers, the drug-addicted, we find many who cannot abide seeing the unconditional care and concern of people who carry out their social responsibility. Whether it is helping the poor, defending human rights, promoting peace instead of violence political actions and statements, the values and priorities of the pro-rich and pro-oppressor are confronted. Because the gospel (the good news of liberation of the poor) is political, it can put those who live it in a dangerous position. We saw this in the Philippines when the president maligned and insulted and even killed church people who condemned extra judicial killings of suspected drug addicts. In many parts of our world compassion towards one’s neighbor is considered a criminal offense whereas corruption and deception in high places are rewarded. The call for us is to be in words of Pope Francis’s recently to Sr. Jeannine Gramick in praise of her 50 years of ministry with LGBT people by showing ‘compassion, closeness and tenderness’ yet uncompromising where abuse, exploitation and oppression become the norm. For Martin Luther King, God’s liberating agenda was/is written new every morning – peace through justice and nonviolence. We need to believe that a different world of interconnectedness is possible. Jesus mission statement does not allow us to domesticate him. The real Jesus does not make us comfortable and is not true. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, ‘to speak about God and remain silent on Vietnam (now Iraq, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Yemen, Haiti) is blasphemous.’ The worse thing we could say about the Gospel would be that it is neutral, that it does not speak out for and opt for the poor; to make out it is indifferent to human, social, economic and political problems, because it only refers to ‘spiritual matters’. Jesus’ mission is not neutral. Frank Bainimarama, Fiji’s Prime Minister, a few years ago, in a challenging speech to the Australian Prime Minister said, ‘From where we are sitting, we cannot imagine how the interests of any single industry can be placed above the welfare of Pacific peoples and vulnerable people in the world over….Rising seas threaten whole communities, forcing them to endure the trauma of relocating from land they've endured for generations.’ Market imperatives seem of greater importance than Gospel.The truth is we often forget that it is about people, not institutions. Jesus ‘shows us that another world is possible - a world of peace, of justice, of solidarity and fullness of life for all.’ The Spirit that breathes life into each one of us and breathes upon us is the same Spirit that urges us on to cry out enough to all that stifles its movement for justice our communities and homes, our churches, our countries, and our world).