Jesus heals, liberates, gives hope and courage

By  Fr. Scott Lewis S.J.
  • January 17, 2007
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C), Jan. 21 (Nehemiah 8:1-4, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 12:12-30; Luke 1:1; 4:14-21)

The Israelites were unaware how far they had strayed from the path of God. Although the prophets hammered at them unceasingly that their exile in Babylon was due to sin, their actual transgressions had perhaps remained unclear in their minds. But they are ignorant no longer, for the public recitation of the law has hit them hard.

Their horror and shame gives way to weeping, and next comes the self-condemnation. They are so similar to most of us. When our mistakes have finally penetrated our denial, self-hatred is often close at hand. But that is not what God desires and the prophet makes that clear.

Finding one's way and experiencing enlightenment is an occasion for joy and celebration, not doom and gloom. God is not about punishment, for the people of Israel have merely experienced the natural consequences of very poor choices. The people are not asked to run some sort of penitential obstacle course, but to feast and celebrate, while ensuring that all are included and have enough.

Our own relationship with God is about learning the lessons of oneness with humanity, love and service. When our faults and omissions are brought home to us, our distress should be fleeting. A sense of gratitude and joy for the revelation God has given us can then inspire us to make the appropriate changes in our life. 

Paul uses a well-known Greek political metaphor to describe the nature of the Christian community. The image of the body was traditionally used as a symbol of hierarchy and subordination: some were destined to fulfil the onerous and unglamorous roles in society, while others were destined to rule.

But Paul uses it as a symbol of interdependence. The "head" of this body is Jesus Christ, not an earthly individual. And all the other members and parts of the body are of equal importance. If even the "lowliest" of the members tries to opt out or refuses to do its share, the whole body suffers. No one is unimportant; no one is more important than another. No person or group of people enjoys racial, ethnic, gender, social or religious superiority over others or an exclusive relationship with God.

Although this principle is given lip service, it has not been taken to heart by our societies, political systems or churches. Part of the malaise of modern culture is due to the isolation people feel and the lack of nurturing community. We are fully human only when we can share the joys and sorrows of others and when we can count the happiness and well-being of all as of equal importance to our own.

Jesus not only understands this, He embodies and reveals it. At first, people are taken with His powerful teaching. But given a chance to read from the Scriptures in the synagogue, Jesus stuns them with some simple but powerful words. He reads from chapter 61 of Isaiah, in which the prophet speaks words of consolation from God.

Good news to the poor, liberty to captives, sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed — a tall order indeed! And what is more, Jesus makes a slight alteration in the text — year of the Lord's "vengeance" becomes "favour." This visitation of God is not going to be the terrifying experience that so many anticipate, but one of healing and forgiveness.

Jesus shocks them when He rolls up the scroll and declares that the prophecy has been fulfilled in their hearing; in other words, in Him.

This is what Jesus is about, and that is the shape of His ministry in the Gospel of Luke. He heals; He liberates; He gives hope and courage, and He crosses many human barriers to do so. Most of all, He communicates to all people that God loves them unconditionally. What greater sense of freedom and liberation could we possibly hope for?

If we should wonder at the fact that many people are still blind, oppressed, poor and imprisoned, Jesus might respond with a challenge: Have you continued my work?  Do you love others as I loved them?

We are all anointed with the same spirit that rested on Jesus. We have no excuse for not following in His footsteps.