In each of the three readings today it seems we have a program for action.
1) The people of the first reading are called to listen attentively to the book of the Law. The law has power to uplift and sustain.
2) Paul uses the metaphor of the body to teach people that we are to live as newly created people whose gifts complement each other.
3) Luke gives us the “inaugural speech” of Jesus, quite stark and unadorned: Jesus has come in the power of the Holy Spirit to make things better for the poor and others on the margin.
The Gospel today comes from two different chapters of Luke’s Gospel. The first part is from chapter one. There we learn that Luke is a third generation follower of Jesus. He speaks of “eyewitnesses and then ministers of the word.” Luke introduces the reader to his Gospel as a whole. The second part is from chapter four and introduces the beginning of Jesus public ministry. In this passage we learn in summary fashion of the program for Jesus’ life.
Jesus roots his mission and ministry in the written word of Isaiah, in which the Spirit sends the prophet to bring glad tidings to the poor, liberation to captives, recovery of sight to the blind and freedom for the oppressed. I never noticed it before, but this line speaks volumes about Jesus: “He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written…” In other words Jesus knew the book of Isaiah and was looking for this particular passage. He was regularly attending the Synagogue on Sabbath and must have listened attentively to the readings. These words reflect the biblical idea of Jubilee. Pope John Paul II quoted them when he spoke of the Jubilee Year.
These words will be fleshed out in the actions and teachings of Jesus in the rest of Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.
But these words are also a challenge to us. The todayness of this Gospel reminds us that the church must continually renew the true jubilee of concern for the marginal and freedom for the oppressed. We seem to have an uncanny ability to block out those portions of Scripture that challenge our prejudices and to magnify those that confirm our own advantage. If we look at the issues that are promulgated through much of the TV and radio religious programming, what do we find? Forgiveness? The poor? Liberty for captives? Setting the down?trodden free? Caring for the wounded? No these are not the topics we hear. We hear of the Health and Wealth Gospel. Give financially that you may receive health and wealth. Money and self interest are talked of almost to the exclusion of other Gospel topics.
One commentator on these words has said: “We have pried open a yawning gap between the world of faith and the world of ‘real’ issues. As a result, we never have to worry about changing our behavior or confronting our culture.”
As we witness a “presidential” inauguration or hear a State of the Union Message, we must ask where are the kinds of people Jesus was concerned about in his inaugural address at Nazareth.
. The bishops of the U.S tell us: “The Church’s social teaching is a rich treasure of wisdom about building a just society and living lives of holiness amidst the challenges of modern society¼.Several of the key themes that are at the heart of our Catholic social tradition are:
Life and Dignity of the Human Person; Call to Family, Community, and Participation; Rights and Responsibilities; Option for the Poor and Vulnerable; The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers; Solidarity; and Care for God’s Creation.
We as Catholics are called to oppose abortion. Most Catholics support this view. But to be Pro-life means much more than to be opposed to abortion. We are also called to oppose the death penalty. This is a clear teaching of our Holy Father and our United States bishops that many people choose to disagree with. We are called in our tradition of social teaching to propose an economy of service rather than greed. These are matters of faith. These are matters rooted in our continuing to work for the mission of Jesus. Our Catholic church has a rich tradition of involvement with “real” issues. But most Catholics have not heard of this teaching. Sr. Simone Campbell of Network has brought the church’s social teaching to the forefront. It would seem that the Leadership Conference of Women Religious’ emphasis on social justice brought them into conflict with the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. Under Pope Francis this was finally resolved.
With Jesus we have a call to a new creation. We are to be agents of this new creation. The Church must be good news to all people, but especially to those who are broken in many different ways. This is not something which we, as members of the Church, may or may not choose to do. It is Jesus’ most challenging word to us today.
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