Some years ago I was travelling by plane from Ireland to England. Next to me was a young man. When I asked him what his work was, he replied that he was connecting with a plane in London to fly to the USA where he was going to study for some years. After that he would get a good job, work very hard, make lots of money, marry and raise a family. He had a programme marked out for himself and he intended to carry it out.
Today’s gospel from Luke speaks of the Messianic Programme of Jesus Christ.
He states quite clearly what his objectives are. He will commit himself to a programme of liberation on all levels. He wishes to bring good news to the poor by telling them that they don’t have to accept that poverty is their lot and that they are condemned to it for life. In most countries especially in the South World the Church is trying to put this into practice by working to empower the poor, involving them in projects that will raise their dignity and give them a sense of self worth.
Jesus also wants captives to be freed, not just people in prison but people imprisoned by fear, enslaved by drink, drugs, money, status, prejudices, self-destructive attitudes, a wrong image of God and what real religion is about, etc. In what way are we captives? Where do we need liberation or freedom? Do we ask the Lord to show us and to give us the Holy Spirit to respond?
Prior to this vision given by Jesus he had spent a long time in the desert guided by the Holy Spirit. Obviously he had pondered and prayed about his vocation. Having clarified it for himself he returns from the desert and under the influence of the same Spirit reveals his program to Israel. It is interesting that he doesn’t pull it out of a hat. He quotes from the prophet Isaiah what God had been revealing to Israel over the centuries. God’s preferential option is for the poor and the marginalised, those who have little status in society.
It is as though he is giving us a key to understand what he is about with his choice of this text. We all know the importance of keys. We use them all the time. If we lose a key to an important place like our house, we are locked out. Or if we lose our car keys when away from home it can cause great difficulty for us. We also speak of keynote addresses which give the central thrust of a meeting etc. So Jesus today is giving his keynote address for his life’s work.
In fact, he is offering us a choice and it is a rather radical one. In our world today very often we are judged by what we do, have, wear or possess, be it money, power, academic degrees, property etc. Jesus is inviting us to think differently. He is not denying that money, a degree, etc are important but he challenging us as to the importance of all these things in our lives. Ultimately he is offering us a program for liberation and social justice. How will we respond?
I often wonder how my young travel companion has got on since we met on that plane all those years ago. Did he ask God for help? Jesus is going to depend on the Holy Spirit to carry out his programme. He says it clearly: “The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me.” Jesus also needs us. The Good News is that Jesus is inviting you and me to participate in his vision for life. We all have been anointed with the Holy Spirit in baptism and confirmation. We are the anointed ones of Jesus. When we go forth from the Eucharist we are missioned to participate in the program of Jesus. The secret of life according to Jesus is that the more you focus on the good of others including the needy, poor, marginalised etc the happier you will be. But this is a very hard lesson to learn when the advertising world is spending billions to get us to accumulate more and more implying that this will give us lasting happiness. We can be those who are blind, blind when we chose possessions instead of also sharing and helping our brothers and sisters in need.
Yet so many wonderful people, hopefully ourselves, try to follow the program of Jesus as outlined today. When he ended up his statement he said ‘this text is being fulfilled today even as you listen’. And it is by so many in many places. These past weeks with the disastrous earthquake in Iraq we see many countries already responding with help. We hear of ‘prisoner support groups’, people contributing so charitably to International Aid Agencies. We hear of young people and not so young too going to famine stricken countries – surely there is the Spirit at work through the generosity of these people.
“Lord Jesus we thank you for the invitation to work with you to help those most in need be it in our own areas or abroad. May each of us be generous in responding to our baptism calling when we were anointed by the Holy Spirit. Amen.”