Central theme: Today’s readings challenge us to hear, read and put into practice the saving and liberating word of God, thus transforming our lives and to convey the salvation and liberation of Christ to others around us through our renewed lives. Today’s Gospel, presenting Jesus’ “inaugural address” in the synagogue of Nazareth and outlining his theology of total liberation, marks a great moment in Jesus’ public ministry.
Scripture lessons summarized: Today’s first reading, taken from Nehemiah, and Luke’s Gospel both describe a public reading of Sacred Scripture which challenges the hearers to make a “fresh beginning” with a new outlook. In the first reading, after rebuilding the Temple and restoring the city, Ezra leads the people in a “Covenant renewal” ceremony by reading and interpreting the Law. Today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 19) sings the praises of the Law of the Lord and its effects on those who accept it. The Second Reading, taken from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, reminds us that “together we are Christ’s Body, but each of us is a different part of it.” This suggests that, as different parts of Christ’s Body, each of us has a share, as instruments in God’s hands, in bringing the freeing and saving mission of Christ to our world in our times.
Today’s Gospel describes how, on a Sabbath, Jesus stood before the people in the synagogue of his hometown, Nazareth, reading and interpreting what Isaiah had prophesied about the Messiah and his mission. Jesus claims that he is the One sent “to bring glad tidings to the poor, liberation to captives, recovery of sight to the blind and freedom for the oppressed”—language that reflects the Biblical year of Jubilee. To the great amazement and disbelief of his own townsmen, Jesus declares that Isaiah’s prophecy is being fulfilled at that very moment “in their hearing,” because the prophecy foretells and describes Jesus’ own mission and ministry. Jesus’ mission is still to give liberation to everyone who will listen to his “Good News,” accept it and put it into practice. Luke reports that surprise and admiration were the initial reactions of the people who were astonished at the power and eloquence of this son of their soil.
Life messages: 1) We need to receive Christ’s freedom, live it and pass it on to others: As members of Christ’s Mystical Body, we share in the freeing, saving mission of Jesus. But we are captives of sin. We need Christ to set us free. We are often blinded by our evil habits, addictions and need for financial security. Once we receive true liberation from Christ, we have to share it with those we encounter in our daily lives, families, neighborhoods, parishes and workplaces.
2) We need to study the Bible and be filled with the Holy Spirit: In order to free us and others from the bondage of sin through our transparent Christin lives, we need to read and study the Bible and practice its teaching in our lives, while praying for the daily, strengthening-anointing of the Holy Spirit and His guidance in our daily lives and cooperating sincerely with His grace.
OT III [C] (Jan 27, 2019) Neh 8:2-4, 5-6, 8-10; I Cor 12:12-30; Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21
Anecdote: # 1: Saint Oscar Romero’s “option for the poor.” Speaking in the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus used Isaiah’s prophetic terms, long since seen as referring to the coming Messiah, to describe his own mission. Jesus said he had been sent, among other reasons, “to bring Good News to the poor.” The success of Jesus’ mission, particularly with the poor who had no political power except that conferred by their sheer numbers, made Jesus a “dangerous” person to the religious authorities of Israel and eventually resulted in his crucifixion. The Christian Gospel is still dangerous when its truth is really put into practice. This is clearly seen in the case of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who was assassinated while he was celebrating Mass because, like Jesus, he reminded people of the needs of the poor and the oppressed in El Salvador. The story began in 1979 when a young priest, Father Grande, was shot and killed on the streets of El Salvador. His “crime” was that he spoke out against the government, which brutally suppressed all forms of protests and executed thousands of innocent people using its notorious “Death Squads.” When Fr. Grande’s great friend, Bishop Oscar Romero, was chosen to be the new Archbishop, the authorities thought he would keep quiet on the question of the oppressed poor in that country. Instead, Archbishop Oscar Romero became an outspoken defender of the poor and a critic of the state-supported “Death Squads.” To honor the memory of his martyred friend, Romero refused to appear in any public ceremonies sponsored by the army or the government. He soon became the voice and conscience of El Salvador. His words and actions were reported throughout the whole world, so that everybody knew the atrocities happening in El Salvador. Romero’s fight for human rights led to his nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. On March 24, 1980, at 6:25 PM, as the Archbishop was offering Mass in a hospital Chapel, a shot from the back of the Church struck him in the chest, killing him instantly. Thus, Archbishop Oscar Romero died a martyr for the Gospel of Christ. He was beatified May 23, 2015 by Cardinal Angelo Amato representing Pope Francis and canonized by Pope Francis October 14, 2018, with the designation “Bishop and Martyr.” As we reflect today on Jesus’ words about his mission, let us remember Saint Oscar Romero and continue to strive to live out faithfully in our world and in our daily lives the “dangerous” truths of the “Good News” which is Jesus’ gift to us today. (https://youtu.be/NsqQeo57u8s)
#2: U.S. Presidents’ Inaugural Addresses: Every single Inaugural Address from George Washington’s to Donald Trump’s has been preserved. In these speeches, presidents have laid out for the country their dreams, goals, and aspirations. Here is a part of the speech given by our first president, George Washington (April 30, 1789), when he bravely acknowledged the role of God in his administration: He said, “It would be improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being Who rules over the universe, Who presides in the councils of nations, and Whose providential aids can supply every human defect.” Franklin Roosevelt said on March 4, 1933, “This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly.” Americans remember the role of citizens outlined in President John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address (January 20, 1961), “In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. …. And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.” More recently we call to mind Ronald Reagan’s American Song theme in 1985: “hopeful, big-hearted, idealistic – daring, decent and fair. That’s our heritage, that’s our song… we raise our voices to the God who is the author of this most tender music.” No doubt you were able to identify several of the presidents by the historical references or by the famous lines, and while all of these Inaugural Addresses are important, some are moving, inspiring and worthy of remembrance. Today in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 4, we have listened to an “inaugural address” delivered not to a Nation but to a synagogue congregation; not in an American city but in a poor village, Nazareth, in Galilee; and not by a man elected by the power of the people but by the God-man Jesus, anointed with the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus outlines his mission, vision and dreams in this famous reflection and teaching.
# 3: Liberation theology of Martin Luther King, Jr: As a Christian minister, King’s main influence in his fights for the liberation of his people was Jesus Christ and the Christian Gospels, which he would almost always quote in his religious meetings, speeches at Church, and in public discourses. King’s Faith was strongly based in Jesus’ commandment of loving your neighbor as yourself, loving God above all, and loving your enemies, praying for them and blessing them. His nonviolent thought was also based in the injunction to turn the other cheek in the Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus’ teaching of putting the sword back into its place (Matthew 26:52).In his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail, King urged action consistent with what he describes as Jesus’ “extremist” love, and also quoted numerous other Christian pacifist authors, which was very usual for him. In another sermon, he stated: “Before I was a civil rights leader, I was a preacher of the Gospel. This was my first calling and it still remains my greatest commitment. You know, actually all that I do in civil rights I do because I consider it a part of my ministry. I have no other ambitions in life but to achieve excellence in the Christian ministry. I don’t plan to run for any political office. I don’t plan to do anything but remain a preacher. And what I’m doing in this struggle, along with many others, grows out of my feeling that the preacher must be concerned about the whole man.”— King, 1967 In his speech “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop“, he stated that he just wanted to do God’s will. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_King,_Jr.)
Introduction: The Scriptures for today focus our attention on the importance and power of the Word of God and its challenge for us today. The Word of God is called “sacramental,” in the sense that when it is spoken, read or heard, God becomes present in our midst. For that to happen to us, we must listen to the Word, accept it into our hearts, and then put it into practice as we live out our lives.
Scripture lessons: Both today’s first reading, taken from Nehemiah, and Luke’s Gospel, describe the public reading of Sacred Scripture which challenges the hearers to make a “fresh beginning” with a new outlook. In the first reading, after rebuilding the Temple and restoring the city, Ezra leads the people in a “Covenant renewal” ceremony. In this ceremony, with the active assistance of a few Levite helper-priests, Ezra reads and interprets the Law to the Jews gathered before the Water Gate from early in the morning till mid-day on the first day of the Jewish year. Today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 19) sings the praises of the Law of the Lord and its effects on those who accept it, ending with the prayer, “Let the words of my mouth and the thought of my heart/find favor before You, O Lord, My Rock and My Redeemer!” Taken from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, the second reading reminds us, “Together we are Christ’s Body, but each of us is a different part of it,” suggesting that, as different parts of Christ’s Body, we each have a share, as God’s instruments, in bringing the freeing and saving mission of Christ to our world in our times. Hence, we need to work together like the different parts of a body, offering our time, talents and treasures to each other as well as to all we encounter in our lives in fulfillment of our Baptismal calling and promises. It is in mutual giving and receiving as one Body that we assist each other to experience the true freedom which Jesus offers us and wishes us to have, that is, freedom from our common legacy, the effects of Adam’s original choice of himself for god, namely, sin, darkness and the power of the evil one. Today’s Gospel describes how, on a Sabbath, Jesus stood before the people in the synagogue of his hometown, Nazareth, reading and interpreting what Isaiah had prophesied about the Messiah. Jesus rooted and grounded his mission and ministry in the written word of Isaiah, particularly in the passage 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—language that reflects the Biblical year of Jubilee. These words had long since been seen as applying to the coming Messiah. To the great amazement and disbelief of his own townsmen, Jesus declared that Isaiah’s prophecy was being fulfilled in him at that very moment because the prophet was foretelling and describing Jesus’ mission and ministry. Jesus’ mission would be to give liberation to everyone who would listen to his “Good News,” accept it and put it into practice.
First reading, Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10, explained: After defeating Babylon, King Cyrus of Persia decreed that the exiled Jews, who had spent seven decades of exile in Babylon, could return home to Jerusalem. The Jews who returned rebuilt their ruined Temple (Ezra 6:15-17), and finished rebuilding the city walls under Ezra, their spiritual leader, and Nehemiah, the Governor appointed by Persia (Nehemiah 6:15). The Lord gave an important mission to both men. They were to teach the Hebrew Scriptures and inspire the people to the high ideals of their ancestral religion. In today’s reading, Ezra is leading the people in a “Covenant renewal” ceremony. In this ceremony, with the active assistance of a few Levite helper-priests, Ezra reads and interprets the Law for the Jews gathered before the Water Gate, from early in the morning till mid-day on the first day of the Jewish year (Nehemiah 8:8). The Torah, thus, becomes a living Word of power, grace and forgiveness for these exiles. It evokes from them a dramatic response. They have come to realize the many ways in which they have failed to keep God’s Commandments in their lives. Hence, with tears of repentance in their eyes and joy in their hearts, the people respond with a great “Amen!” Israel, as we sing in today’s Psalm, was rededicating itself to God and His Law. The passage describes the birth of preaching: the first homily took place at an assembly of the Chosen People of God during the 5th century BC!
Second Reading, 1 Corinthians 12:12-30, explained: The Christian community in the Greek seaport of Corinth was a mixture of people of various ethnic groups, a combination which occasionally caused divisions that threatened its unity. Paul was worried that the community might break apart into factions. So, in order to help them build up the Body of Christ in Corinth, he wrote about the need for them to have unity and mutual love. In today’s selection from that letter, Paul addresses a Christian community blessed with diverse manifestations of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Prophets, preachers, healers, teachers – you name it, the Spirit had bestowed the job on someone in Corinth! These folks often exercised their gifts in spectacular, ecstatic ways that drew a lot of attention, much as they can do today among people who attend revivals and the crusades of some Faith-healers. And that could have caused trouble. So Paul spends chapters 12, 13 and 14 of this letter trying to get the Corinthians to enjoy and express their gifts in ways that will give strength and unity to the community and glory to God rather than cause divisions by competition among them. Paul insists that the Corinthians must use their spiritual gifts to glorify God, not themselves. This particular passage tackles the unity-of-the-Church issue with the metaphor of the parts of the body. Each member of the Church is compared to one of the parts of the body, who with God’s special gifts is making a unique contribution to the health of the whole. Hence, Paul urges the Spirit-gifted Corinthian Christians to find Jesus in their community by recognizing Jesus in one another. The same plea is being addressed to us in our day. Even if the Spirit has not granted us the gift of speaking in tongues or that of healing powers, we can always choose to exercise the gift of love, which we have all been given, and which Paul ranks higher than all the rest. Paul, one of the earliest Christian authors, believes that it is essential for all Jesus’ followers to understand and appreciate the necessity of their own presence and of their freeing role in the ongoing life of Body of Christ.
Gospel exegesis: Synagogue worship: The Jews had only one main Temple, located in Jerusalem and used for offering sacrifices to God and celebrating the major feasts. Throughout the rest of the country, however, there were synagogues, one for every ten families or more, where the community, particularly the men, could offer Sabbath prayers and study the Scriptures. It was customary for the men to sit in the central part of the synagogue, where the scrolls were kept. The women and children sat in a separate area on the side of the synagogue. It was the Jewish custom for the reader to stand while reading, and to sit down while teaching (Mt 13:54; Mk 6:1). The prayer began with “Shema’’ prayer followed by the recital of the “Eighteen Blessings,” praising and thanking God. Then seven passages from the “Torah” the book of Law and three passages from the “Prophets” were read and interpreted. Finally, the prayer was concluded by a priest or the synagogue president blessing the assembly using the blessing from the Book of Numbers (6; 22 ff). (Visit: https://www.thattheworldmayknow.com/he-went-to-synagogue for details).
Jesus’ reading and interpretation: Today’s gospel describes how Jesus participated in the sabbath prayer of the synagogue in his native place in Nazareth with a band of his disciples. The synagogue Liturgy of the Word was based on seven readings. The first four were from the Law (the Torah or the Pentateuch) followed by explanations given by the rabbi who was the teacher of the Law. The second set of three readings, taken from the prophets, could be read and interpreted by any circumcised male over thirty years of age. It was in this second capacity that Jesus read and preached on the passage from Isaiah (61:1-2a). Naturally, the people of his native place were curious to hear from this carpenter-turned-prophet who had grown up among them, and who had worked miracles throughout Galilee. Luke reports that Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news of him spread throughout the whole region. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,” Jesus said, “because He has anointed me…” This “power of the Spirit” was absolutely essential in order for Jesus to complete his mission.
“Theology of liberation”: The reading from Isaiah describes a kind of Messianic figure. Jesus identifies himself as that figure and declares that the mission and ministry prophesied are his mission and his ministry. In other words, Jesus declares that Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in Him. This mission was similar to the mission given to Moses in Exodus 3:7-10. Jesus claims that he has been sent to Israel: (1) to bring glad tidings to the poor; (2) to proclaim liberty to captives; (3) to give recovery of sight to the blind; (4) to free the oppressed, and (5) to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. [“An acceptable year,” in this context, suggested the ancient “Jubilee Year.”] Isaiah meant that the period of his ministry would open for all Israel the long-desired restoration of Zion which the Lord God Himself would accomplish, giving Israel His forgiveness and restoring her to His love and favor. In selecting this Messianic passage as referring to himself (“This text is being fulfilled today, even as you listen”), Jesus sums up both the source of his power and authority, and the nature of his freeing and saving ministry. First, Jesus claims the power of God’s Spirit as the source of his work. Second, Jesus makes this proclamation in the context of Judaism – on the Sabbath, from the Scriptures, and in the synagogue. Third, Jesus identifies his work, the work of the Messiah, with that of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh (see Isaiah 42:1-4, in particular), who brings Good News to the poor, proclaims release to the oppressed and recovery of sight to the blind — figuratively and literally. Fourth, this agenda begins in Nazareth and extends to all places where the Word of God will be heard and understood.
Life messages: 1) We need to receive Christ’s freedom, live it out, and pass it on to others: As members of Christ’s Mystical Body, we share in the freeing, saving mission of Jesus. However, even after we have chosen to believe in him, to accept his teachings and to live them out in our lives, we are still in bondage. We are captives of sin, and only Christ can set us free. We are often blinded by our evil habits, addictions and need for financial security. Pride and prejudice can make us blind to the needs of the less-fortunate, prompting us to fear and avoid them, rather than to love and help them. We can also be blind to the presence of God within ourselves and others. We are often not free to listen to a lonely, heart-broken neighbor. We can be prisoners of materialism and consumerism, chained to pleasure, power, money and control of everyone and everything in our world. Accordingly, we need to be freed and raised to a richer level of life. Once we receive true liberation from Christ, we need to share it with those we encounter in our daily lives — in our families, communities, parishes and workplaces.
2) We need to let the power of the Holy Spirit fill us, and to be ready to have miracles done through us. Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus performed miracles because he was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised the same Spirit to his disciples: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth…. He lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17). To this very day, the Holy Spirit is available to all believers who sincerely ask Him to dwell in their hearts. If we fail to receive, and then to use, His power and His gifts, we are left with nothing but our natural abilities, and we will be unable to be used as instruments in His freeing miracles. Miracles occur every day through weak human instruments, although they may be less spectacular than the ones Jesus performed. People whose minds are ravaged by fear and hatred can be miraculously filled with peace and kindness. Those whose hearts are crippled with bitterness and anger can be made gentle and peaceful. Perhaps others, whose relationships with their spouses are strained, can be miraculously healed by love and faithfulness. These are true miracles, performed by the power of God, through the Holy Spirit, often making use of human instruments. Let us be ready to become Spirit-filled instruments of Christ’s saving freedom.
3) We need to make Bible reading and study a part of our daily Christian life. Bible reading enables us to know Jesus more and to love him better. That is why we should set apart a time in the morning and in the evening to read a part of the Bible, giving priority to the Gospels and the Epistles. This reading should be an integral part of the evening family prayer. Children should be encouraged to read the Bible with the adults explaining to them what they read. We need to read the Scriptures as books inspired by God that teach us about God and how we should live our lives. We also need to ask for God’s grace to interpret what we read. God give us inspiration so that we may understand the text and apply its lessons fruitfully to our lives. Five or ten minutes each day will make it possible to read the entire New Testament easily at least twice each year.
Joke of the week: 1) “Liberation theology” of obesity: And God created the earth with broccoli and cauliflower and spinach, green and yellow vegetable of all kinds, so Man and Woman would live long and healthy lives. And Satan invented McDonald’s. And McDonald’s invented the 99-cent double-cheeseburger. And Satan said to Man, “You want fries with that?” And Man said, “Super-size them.” And Man gained pounds. And God created the healthful yogurt, that woman might keep her figure that man found so fair. And Satan discovered chocolate. And woman gained pounds. And God said, “Try My crispy fresh salad.” And Satan invented ice cream. And woman gained pounds. And God said, “I have sent you heart-healthy vegetables and olive oil with which to cook them.” And Satan invented a chicken-fried steak so big it needed its own platter. And Man gained pounds and his bad cholesterol went through the roof. ………..And Man went into cardiac arrest. And God sighed and created quadruple bypass surgery. And Satan invented HMOs2) God’s surprise message to three powerful presidents: There is a story about God calling the world’s three most powerful Presidents for a meeting: Presidents coming from Russia, China and U.S.A. God told them one thing: “The world will end by the year 2020.” The three Presidents went to their respective countries and told their people about what God had told them. The Russian President said: “My dear people, I have two messages to give, both of them are bad news. First, God is real and second, the world will end by the year 2020.” The President of China announced to his people, “My dear people, I have two important messages for you, one unbelievable and God is real. The horrible message is that this God is so fed up with our world that He wants to destroy it.” The American President appeared in the national television to speak to the Americans. He said: “My dear people I have three messages to convey to you, all of them are good news. First, God is still in control of the world. Second, He talked to your President directly. And the third is, our world will end by the year 2020 and all our problems will be over.” In today’s Gospel Jesus stands up in his native synagogue in Nazareth and announces the good news of a loving, liberating and saving God.
eleven cents for sewing together a pair of blue jeans that are sold by an American company for $14.95. That company made $566 million in profits on those jeans in one year. One out of every five Ugandan children will not live to age five because they do not have simple, primary health care. That is not just in Nicaragua. This is not just in Uganda. There are hurts to heal in our cities. There are poor people here. There are homeless people here. There are addicted people here. There are lonely people here. There are oppressed and captive people here. There are hurts that need to be healed! And you ask, “What can I do? Is there anything I can do? Can I be one who stands in the gap between the way things are and the way things can be? Can I be a bridge over which other people can travel in that journey from the way things are and the way things can be?”
2) “Poverty for us is a freedom”: St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) thinks so. There was a beautiful article about her in Time magazine. She was asked about the materialism of the West. “The more you have, the more you are occupied,” she contends. “But the less you have, the more free you are. Poverty for us is a freedom. It is a joyful freedom. There is no television here, no this, no that. This is the only fan in the whole house…and it is for the guests. But we are happy. I find the rich poorer,” she continues. “Sometimes they are more lonely inside…The hunger for love is much more difficult to fill than the hunger for bread…The real poor know what is joy.” When asked about her plans for the future, she replied, “I just take one day. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not come. We have only today to love Jesus.” Is there anyone in this room as rich as Mother Teresa?
3) The Lake Wobegon effect A scandal is brewing in the hallowed halls of Academe. It has to do with test scores given to our young people. A West Virginia doctor noticed some time back that all 50 states claim that their students score above average on standardized test scores. That, of course, is impossible “for everyone to be above average.” Someone has even given this scandal a thoughtful name, “the Lake Wobegon effect.” Lake Wobegon is author Garrison Keillor’s mythical town where, “All the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” Obviously, by definition it is impossible for everyone to be “above average.” Average is what most people are. Nobody, though, wants to admit it. What has Jesus got to do with the Lake Wobegon effect? Just this. How can I look across this congregation, we who have so much, who are so well-fed, so well-clothed, so surrounded by the good things of life, how can I look across this congregation and tell you that Jesus came to save the poor, the captives, the blind and the oppressed? That’s not us! We are winners. We are stars. We’re all above average. This is one text we can skip over. It’s for someone else. Still, it’s there. Maybe we ought to listen. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,” says Christ, “because He has anointed me to preach Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” What, if anything, is Christ saying to you and me?
4) Jesus the prophet: In one of his books, David Buttrick tells about a cartoon in a magazine. The cartoon showed three men sitting in a row behind a long table. A microphone has been placed in front of each of them. One man was pictured in long flowing hair and a draped white robe. Another was battered, a wreath of jagged thorns on his head. The third was swarthy, with dark curly hair and a pointed nose. The caption said, “Will the real Jesus Christ please stand?”
Everybody sees Jesus from a different angle, including the writers of the New Testament. For Matthew, Jesus is the Teacher of Righteousness. For Mark, Jesus is an exorcist, constantly battling the powers of evil. Even after Evil nails him to a cross, Jesus emerges from the tomb to continue his saving work. But for Luke, the word that best summarizes the person and work of Jesus is the word “prophet.” In the story we heard today, Jesus is a different kind of prophet. The prophet Jesus says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” When the prophet Jesus says, “Today the Scripture is fulfilled,” he turns memory into mission. He transforms a hope into an assignment. He claims the beautiful poetry of Isaiah as his job description.
5) What is the mission of our Church? In Rachel Carson’s book, The Sea Around Us, she describes the microscopic vegetable life of the sea, which provides food for many of the ocean’s smallest creatures. She tells how these little plants drift thousands of miles wherever the currents carry them, with no power or will of their own to direct their own destiny. The plants are named plankton, a Greek word that means “wandering” or “drifting.” Plankton describes the wandering plant life of the ocean. [Robert A. Raines, New Life in the Church (San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1961).] Plankton may also be a good way to define the life of the Church today. We are wandering adrift. What is our mission as a Church? Why do we exist? From my studies of Jesus’ ministry and teachings, I believe we exist for two reasons: one is to reach individual people with the Good News of God’s love as revealed in Jesus Christ; the second is to influence society to the point that the kingdoms of this earth more closely resemble the Kingdom of God.
6) “The 2% Rule.” I don’t know if you are familiar with the 2% concept or not, but it is based on the findings of sociologist and educator Robert Bellah, author of the best-selling book, Habits of the Heart (1985). Bellah was for a long time a sociologist at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton University. While there, he came to this conclusion: “We should not underestimate the significance of the small group of people who have a vision of a just and gentle world . . . The governing values of a whole culture may be changed when 2% of its people have a new vision.” Think of that! All you need is 2% of the people, according to Bellah, and you can change an entire culture. (http://www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/1996-05-26-A-Few-Good-Men/). I wonder if we realize just how powerful we potentially could be. But first we need to define our mission. Jesus called his followers salt . . . he spoke of the Kingdom as leaven. What he was saying is that we should be having an impact on our surrounding culture. A vital Church understands its mission.
7) Liberation starts in individuals: In 1835, Elijah Lovejoy saw a man lynched. It changed his life. He cut back on his career as a Presbyterian pastor and as a schoolteacher. He went back to his earlier training as a newspaper editor and began to write anti-slavery tracts. He delivered speeches and aroused hostility. People persecuted him, beat him, and finally burned him out of his home. He was injured in combating the fire, and after only two years, he was killed. Elijah P. Lovejoy, a life cut short. A young attorney in Elijah’s home state of Illinois read Elijah P. Lovejoy’s materials and was deeply influenced. Twenty-six years later, that young attorney signed the Emancipation Proclamation. One person! One! Will you be one?
8) “Don’t you want to be free?” In his book Ghost Soldiers, Hampton Sides tells the story of a dramatic mission during World War II. On January 28th, 1945, 121 hand-selected Army Rangers slipped behind enemy lines in the Philippines in an attempt to rescue 513 American and British POW’s who had spent three years in a hellish prison camp near the city of Cabanatuan. Hampton Sides describes the first effects of liberation as chaos and fear. The prisoners were mentally too brittle to understand what was taking place. Some even scurried away from their liberators. One particular prisoner, Bert Bank, refused to budge, even when a Ranger walked right up to him and tugged his arm. “C’mon, we’re here to save you,” he said. “Run for the gate.” Bank still would not move. The Ranger looked into his eyes and saw they were vacant, registering nothing.” “What’s wrong with you?” he asked. “Don’t you want to be free?” Finally, a smile formed on Bank’s lips as the meaning of the words became clear, and he reached up to the outstretched hand of the Ranger. The Rangers searched all the barracks for additional prisoners, then shouted, “The Americans are leaving. Is there anybody here?” Hearing no answer, they left. The freed prisoners marched 25 miles and boarded their ship home. With each step, their stunned disbelief gave way to soaring optimism. In today’s Gospel, Jesus presents to his fellow-townsmen his mission of bringing them God’s saving freedom, to their great astonishment and, for some, their disbelief.
9) Liberation attempts in parishes: One average-sized church in Brooklyn, New York, decided that it would fight a popular clothing company and, in doing so, ended the sweatshops in El Salvador. It was just an average-sized Church that stood up and said, “We are against the exploitation of children.” The Faith Network of Children decided that it would conduct a campaign and close the sweat shop in El Camino, California, where 72 people from Thailand, behind barbed wire, were being paid $1.60 an hour and working eighteen hours a day because somebody stood up and said, “Wait a minute! We are against the exploitation of women.”
In 1977, both Jews and Christians marched in silence during Holy Week in an effort to protest against the most luxurious hotels of California, and particularly Los Angeles, because they were paying slave-labor wages to the people who were making their guests feel luxurious. Some of them had been working there over twenty years and still had no benefits or any health care. Because they got some people’s attention, fourteen of the most luxurious hotels in Los Angeles banded together and signed a commitment that they would pay their employees a living wage and try to provide for them benefits that would be an example for hotels all over the world to follow. This happened because Christians and Jews marched silently during Holy Week.
10) Princess Diana’s “liberation theology”: Before her tragic death in 1997, Princess Diana was championing the cause of those who had been victims of land-mine explosions. In the weeks following her funeral, the video footage of her last visit to Bosnia ran again and again on televised news programs. Featured in the footage was the Princess, reaching out in compassion to those who had survived the explosion but who would have to live the rest of their lives maimed by the loss of one or more of their limbs. Her care for these wounded members of society was a poignant reminder of what Paul teaches in today’s second reading. Just as every part or member of the human body is necessary to the well-being of the whole person, so is every member of the human family necessary to the well-being of the Body of Christ. Therefore, each member must be cherished, valued, respected and protected by all the other members.
11) Let me tell you about a commencement speech that was addressed to Harvard’s Senior Class. On the morning of their graduation, seniors gather in Memorial Church to hear the minister offer words of solace and encouragement as they leave “the Yard” to take their places in the world.
The 1998 senior class heard the unvarnished truth from the Rev. Peter Gomes, minister at Harvard and the author of several books on the Bible. Doctor Gomes took no prisoners that day. He began: “You are going to be sent out of here for good, and most of you aren’t ready to go. The president is about to bid you welcome into the fellowship of educated men and women and,” (and here he paused and spoke each word slowly for emphasis), “you know just – how – dumb – you – really – are.” The senior class cheered in agreement. “And worse than that,” Doctor Gomes continued, “the world – and your parents in particular – are going to expect that you will be among the brightest and best. But you know that you can no longer fool all the people even some of the time. By noontime today, you will be out of here. By tomorrow you will be history. By Saturday, you will be toast. That’s a fact – no exceptions, no extensions.” “Nevertheless, there is reason to hope,” Doctor Gomes promised. “The future is God’s gift to you. God will not let you stumble or fall. God has not brought you this far to this place to ABANDON you or leave you here alone and afraid. The God of Israel never stumbles, never sleeps, never goes on sabbatical. Thus, my beloved and bewildered young friends, do not be afraid.” What Doctor Gomes did for the senior class at Harvard, Isaiah does for Israel. This is the wonderful part of Isaiah’s ministry. It’s true that he told them they would be destroyed. But he also preached a message of restoration. He stood on the steps of the Temple in Jerusalem and told them there was hope. There would be a year of Jubilee. There would come a time when God would forgive. Listen to Isaiah’s words in chapter 14: “The Lord will have compassion on Israel; once again he will choose his people and settle them in their land. And the house of Israel will possess the nations.”
12) “You’ll learn more from that than anything I can tell you.” The story is told of Noelene Martin, a Franciscan monk in Australia assigned to be the guide and “gofer” for St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) when she visited New South Wales. Thrilled and excited at the prospect of being so close to this great woman, he dreamed of how much he would learn from her and what they would talk about. But during her visit, he became frustrated. Although he was constantly near her, the friar never had the opportunity to say one word to Mother Teresa. There were always other people for her to meet. Finally, her tour was over, and she was due to fly to New Guinea. In desperation, the Franciscan friar spoke to Mother Teresa: “If I pay my own fare to New Guinea, can I sit next to you on the plane so I can talk to you and learn from you?” Mother Teresa looked at him. “You have enough money to pay airfare to New Guinea?” she asked. “Yes,” he replied eagerly. “Then give that money to the poor,” she said. “You’ll learn more from that than anything I can tell you.” Mother Teresa understood that Jesus’ ministry was to the poor, and she made it hers as well. She knew that they more than anyone else needed Good News.
13) Liberation from hate: The Walt Disney TV movie, Ruby Bridges, told the story of Ruby Bridges, a six-year-old African-American girl, who was the first person to integrate the schools in New Orleans. Every day the federal marshals escorted her into the schoolhouse, because both sides of the sidewalk would be lined with people who were screaming threats. Robert Coles, a noted Harvard psychiatrist, volunteered his time to work with young Ruby. Every day he would talk with her, trying to help her weather the crisis. On the news one night, he noticed her walking up the sidewalk and the people were screaming and throwing things, but suddenly she stopped and said something and started backing down the sidewalk. Then the marshals picked her up and took her into the building. That night, Cole asked her what she said to the marshals. She said, “I was not talking to the marshals.” He said, “Yes, you were. I saw you on the news. I saw your lips moving. You were talking to the marshals.” She said, “I was not talking to the marshals.” He said, “Well, what were you doing?” She said, “I was praying for those people who were hollering at me. I had forgotten to pray and I was trying to go back and pray for them as I walked to the school building.” Cole shook his head and said, “You were praying for the people who were screaming at you?” She said, “Yes, my mama taught me that when people speak mean of you, you pray for them just like Jesus prayed for the people who spoke mean of him.”
14) The “Cult of the Spectator.” Our philosophers of history have pointed out to us that one of the sure signs of the disintegration of a society – the decay of a culture – is the growth of the Cult of the Spectator, the Cult of the Stadium, where most of the people never play the game. They just sit in the stadium and watch it. They also state that the test of a religion is its effect on such a culture. The more we recognize the similarities between our culture and that of decaying Ancient Imperial Rome, the more we can see the significance of one of the great passages in Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago. I thought of his words, as a few months ago, I stood on the highest rim of the Colosseum and allowed my mind to stray back 2,000 years to imagine what it had looked like then. Pasternak said, “Rome is a flea market of borrowed gods and conquered people, a mass of filth convoluted in a triple knot, as in an intestinal obstruction. Heavy wheels with no spokes, eyes sunk in fat, sodomy, double chins, illiterate emperors, fish fed on the flesh of learned slaves, all crammed into the arches of the Colosseum, and all wretched. And then, into this tasteless heap of gold and marble, HE came, Light, clothed in an aura, emphatically human, deliberately provincial, the Galilean, the Christ. And at that moment, gods and nations ceased to be, and MAN came into the glory of his being.” Yes, there was vitality in the early Christian culture, so that a handful of slaves and outlaws could easily dump over the whole imperial facade without even raising a weapon. It is the power of the Good News of liberation preached by Jesus, officially starting at Nazareth.
15) Surprise, surprise! A man wrote into Reader’s Digest with an embarrassing story about his former boss. This gentleman was just stepping out of the shower one evening when his wife called and asked him to run down to the basement and turn off the iron she had accidentally left on. Without bothering to grab a towel or robe, the man headed down to the basement. Just as he reached the bottom stair, the lights came on and a dozen friends and colleagues jumped out and shouted, “Surprise!” His wife had planned a secret party for the man’s 40th birthday. [“Life in These United States,” Readers Digest (Mar. 1997), p. 84.] Not all surprises are good ones, at least at first glance. Jesus had an uncanny ability to take people by surprise–and they weren’t always pleased about it. Take, for instance, the surprise Jesus sprang on the Nazarene congregation in our Bible passage for today.
16) Observing or profaning the Sabbath? Under the blue laws of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Puritans administered religion to unwilling subjects by means of the whipping post, the ducking stool, the stocks, fines, and imprisonment. Mrs. Alice Morse Earle’s history, The Sabbath in Puritan New England has such examples: “Two lovers, John Lewis and Sarah Chapman, were accused and tried for sitting together on the Lord’s Day under an apple tree. A Dunstable soldier, for wetting a piece of old hat to put on his shoe to protect his foot, was fined forty shillings for doing this heavy work. Captain Kemble of Boston in 1656 was put in public stocks for two hours for his ‘lewd and unseemly behavior’ which consisted of kissing his wife in public on the Sabbath on the doorstep of his house after his return from a three-year voyage. A man who had fallen into the water [and so had) absented himself from Church to dry his only suit of clothes was found guilty and publicly whipped.” In today’s Gospel Jesus offers us his theology of liberation in contrast to the Puritan Blue laws. (Anthony Castle in More Quotes and Anecdotes)
`17) The Courage to Change: In November of 1984 on one of his PBS Late Night America Shows, Dennis Wholey confessed that he was an alcoholic. He went on to describe a book he had put together entitled The Courage to Change: Personal Conversations about Alcoholism with Dennis Wholey. The book contains frank and revealing conversations with a wide variety of celebrity alcoholics such as rock singer Grace Slick, baseball player Bob Welch, actor Jason Robards, comedian Shecky Greene and Catholic priest Vaughan Quinn. Also, there are heartfelt conversations with Rod Steiger and Jerry Falwell, who are children of alcoholics; and Sybil Carter, whose husband Billy is an alcoholic. Four years earlier, Dennis Wholey confronted his own problem with alcohol and now is on a mission with his book to help other victims of what is sometimes called “the most treatable untreated disease in this country.” Dennis Wholey’s message about The Courage to Change matches our Lord’s message of liberation given in today’s Gospel. (Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
18) Homeland: Edgar Reitz, the German film director, tells the story of how he went home with a friend to visit his mother, and while they were there his mother told a story he had never heard before. The story was of a man from their town who had left his house one day saying he was going up the road to the local inn for a drink. But he never returned home, and no one ever heard of him again. Reitz was intrigued by the story because he was interested in what would make someone leave home without telling anyone, and what would keep him from ever coming back. He was interested in what makes people leave the place they belong to, and what makes some of them come back. Why do some people leave home never to return? What draws some people back – if only to rediscover why they left? Reitz decided to make a film on the theme. He has called it Heimat, which means “homeland”, and it lasts for 15 hours and 36 minutes! The film is a chronicle of one family and one small village in Germany from 1919 until 1982. One of its many appeals is how it depicts the great sense of belonging the people have in the small village of Schabbach when they are born into a place their family have lived for generations. They are born into a particular memory that associates them with people and places and little stories. They are able to call on all this, which gives them a sense of belonging and a hold over their identity. The film shows how, in the passage of time that sense of belonging slowly disappears. But no matter how far people travel from home, perhaps there is always some hope that they can go back. As one character in a poem by Robert Frost says: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in.” In today’s Gospel, Jesus returns to Nazareth where he has been brought up, the place which gives him the identity of Jesus of Nazareth. (Dennis McBride in Seasons of the Word”; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
19) The current release Amazing Grace. This film tells the moving story of William Wilberforce and his life-long struggle against slavery in the Parliament of England. This young man of unusual ability and noteworthy power relentlessly appealed to the consciences of sophisticated people to stop what no normal person could stand to embrace. He literally gave his life trying to set people free. What the movie does not include is the fact that slavery was finally, fully outlawed in England on July 26, 1833. William Wilberforce died July 29, 1833. Lest we think slavery to be a problem of the past, there are eighteen to twenty thousand people trafficked in the U.S. each year for forced labor or prostitution. There are twenty-seven million enslaved people worldwide, eighty percent of them women and over half, children under eighteen. A sub-plot of Amazing Grace is the life of John Newton, the preacher behind Wilberforce. A former slave trader himself, Newton lived out the latter years of his life with the ghosts of twenty thousand slaves haunting him in the night. But as he proclaims in the movie, “I am a great sinner, but I found a Great Savior.” I don’t think I’ll ever sing about the “amazing grace that saved a wretch like me” in the same way again. Jesus Christ can do that for you and me.
The values of Jesus proclaim the year of God’s favor for all. This kind of talk got Jesus kicked out of town. But let us not be too quick to judge. These Nazarenes liked the idea of a year of Jubilee. Who wouldn’t be in favor of a little Heaven on earth that grants forgiveness of debts and return of land to original owners? It was the sweet dream of all God’s children in Israel. They hoped Jesus would make it happen. So their hopes rose with this hometown boy. But Jesus led no revolution against Rome. Jesus fit no image of their expected Messiah. Jesus was not elected the Chief Rabbi of Galilee and worst of all, He told the home folks that the Jubilee would be for widows and foreigners and lepers, as well as, you and me. Talk like that gets you in big trouble. So our story ends with Jesus between a mob of angry people and the precipice of a huge cliff.
20) At the cross roads: The Stranger, novel by Albert Camus, introduces us to Meursault, a young man who commits a murder. The dramatic prosecutor theatrically denounces Meursault to the point that he claims Mersault must be a soulless monster, incapable of remorse and that he thus deserves only to die for his crime. Although Meursault’s attorney defends him and later tells Mersault that he expects the sentence to be light, Meursault is alarmed when the judge informs him of the final decision: that he will be decapitated publicly. Now the young man stands at a crossroads. He has only two ways open in front of him. One is to accept the message of peace, repent and be exonerated. The other is to perish in his obstinacy. Dear friends, God’s laws instruct us, educate us and lead us forward. Finally, we are placed in a situation where only two roads are open before us. There we have to make an ultimate choice: to follow God’s precepts and attain freedom or to discard them and end up in doom. The first reading presents a beautiful scene. Ezra the priest is reading the Law of the Lord to the people. Upon listening to the Law they must choose whether to accept or reject it. Repentant, they decide to follow the precepts of the Lord. (Fr. Bobby Jose).
21) Dictionaries stolen, Bible safe: The Sanford Hotel in San Francisco reports that it never lost a single Bible in the 15 years it placed them at the bedside as a service to the guests. But, in one month after it started putting dictionaries in the rooms as well, 41 dictionaries disappeared. Now, I don’t know whether you can draw a solid conclusion from that, but on the surface, it seems obvious that persons apparently place a greater value on human words than they do the Word of God. So, there are words and The Word. Of course, the Bible is the Word above all other words. But we go even further than that in the Christian Faith. Jesus is the Word — the Word become flesh — and by the Word that He is, we assess all other words including the Bible. (Maxie Dunnam).
22) Rehabilitation: In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and due in no small measure to advances in science and technology, a new methodology dealing with society’s physical, psychological, ethical, moral, and social ills has been developed. Foremost among these methods is that of rehabilitation. From the Latin re, which means again, and habilitare, which means to enable, rehabilitation has been defined as the process whereby: (1) a handicapped or otherwise incapacitated person is restored to useful life through education and therapy; (2) the good name of a person is reinstated; (3) the rank, privileges and rights of a person are restored; (4) a person is returned to his/her former state or condition. Criminal offenders who were once simply relegated to prison to protect society are now being rehabilitated through treatment and training so as to be rendered capable of returning to society and functioning as law-abiding members of the community. Persons with addictions to gambling, drugs and/or alcohol, people with eating disorders, people with other compulsive behaviors, etc., now have hope for rehabilitation by participating in extensive programs offered at special centers by qualified therapists and counselors. Patients with physical challenges suffered as a result of accident or illness (stroke, heart/lung disease, etc.) can also benefit from courses of rehabilitation therapy. In the past few decades some inner-city neighborhoods that had been allowed to degenerate into urban jungles have been rehabilitated through the cooperative efforts of caring citizens. In today’s Scripture readings, Ezra in the first reading and Jesus in the Gospel reading both invite a gathered assembly to appreciate and become participants in another sort of rehabilitation, viz., that which is freely offered to all people through the power of the Word of God. In the second reading, Paul notes that since all believers are members of the same body of Christ, the rehabilitation of each of us is inextricably bound to the rehabilitation of all of us. At the outset of this new year, believers in Jesus are called to be rehabilitated by the power of the Word of God and to participate in the Church’s mission of rehabilitating all of humankind. (Sanchez files). 23) Rehab of Bosnian handicapped: Before her tragic death in 1997, Princess Diana was championing the cause of those who had been victims of land mine explosions. In the weeks following her funeral, the video footage of her last visit to Bosnia ran again and again on televised news programs. Featured in the footage was the Princess, reaching out in compassion to those who had survived the explosion but who would have to live the rest of their lives maimed by the loss of one or more of their limbs. Her care for these wounded members of society was a poignant reminder of what Paul teaches in today’s second reading. Just as every part or member of the human body is necessary to the well-being of the whole person, so every member of the human family is necessary to the well-being of the body of Christ. Therefore, each member must be cherished, valued, respected and protected. Perhaps Paul’s exhortation can also be understood as an appeal to contemporary believers to offer similar admiration and acceptance to the sanitation worker, teacher and short order cook as to the professional athlete, movie star and media mogul. (Sanchez files). L-19
Prepared by: Fr. Anthony Kadavil, Chaplain, Sacred Heart Residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor, 1655 McGill Ave, Mobile, AL 36604.