THE MISSION OF THE MESSIAH
Neh 8:2-4, 5-6, 8-10; 1 Cor 12:12-30; Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21
Today’s gospel passage shows Jesus making a the “mission statement”. He tells us what the Father sent him into the world to do. In a nutshell, his mission was to liberate people from all forms of oppression: physical, mental and spiritual. You find it in the Gospel of Luke 4:14-21, which constitutes part of our gospel reading of today. This text confirms what the prophet Isaiah had said would be the task of the coming Messiah (Confer Isaiah 61:1-2). Therefore, in order to understand his “mission statement”, every movement and action of Jesus during his ministry counts.
- THE CHURCH SERVICE IN A SYNAGOGUE
Luke 4:14 begins by telling us that Jesus returned to Galilee and to Nazareth, the place where Jesus had been brought up. Jesus has already made a little bit of a name for himself. We are told, “news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.” (Lk 4:14) The synagogue was the local church in Judaism. Although no sacrifices took place in the synagogue (because they were reserved at the Temple in Jerusalem) the local synagogue was the place for prayer, the reading of Scripture, and instruction. It was common for any visiting teachers to be invited to teach at a synagogue service.
Let us note that Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth because “it was his custom”. He did not go there because it was conveniently near to his home. He went because this was the discipline and habit of his life. This teaches us something about our church attendance. What is our motive for attending Mass on Sunday? What motivates us to attend Mass in one parish and not in the other? Are we looking for special music, a well-furnished church building, a special preacher, or …?) Jesus went to the local synagogue because it was the prayer place for his people at home.
- JESUS IS THE ONE WHOM ISAIAH WAS POINTING TO
Jesus was invited to speak. St. Luke, the evangelist, carefully and purposefully gives us the details of Jesus’ moves. He stood up. Then, he was given the scroll. Then, he unrolled the scroll. When he came to Isaiah 61:1-2, he read the passage. We do not know if he chose the text or whether this was, in God’s providence, the text of the day. It was a passage often applied to the anticipated Messiah. Then Jesus said: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, 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 year of the Lord’s favour.” The Messiah is described as one who would help people in trouble, would set free those who were imprisoned in various ways, and would mend those who were broken. The Year of the Lord’s favour referred to what the Old Testament calls the Year of Jubilee. In the Old Testament Law (book of Leviticus) God prescribed that every 50 years all the prisoners and slaves were to be set free; all the land was to be returned to its original owners; all debts were to be canceled. It was to be a new beginning. The Year of Jubilee was designed to eliminate any permanent class distinctions and oppression. There is no record in the Old Testament that the Year of Jubilee was ever observed.
Jesus rolled the scroll back up and then sat down (the common position for the teacher). We are told all eyes were fastened upon him. This is pretty much what the priest, Ezra, does in the First Reading of today, when he proclaims the word of God to the people of Israel (Neh 8:2-4, 5-6, 8-10). After reading, Ezra, conveys a message of hope and consolation to the desperate people. In the case of Jesus, everyone waited for his exposition of the passage. Jesus let the silence build some suspense and then he basically said, “This passage was talking about me.” Jesus was saying that the time of the promised renewal had come. There may have been more to his message, but the only point people remembered, or needed to remember, was this one: Jesus was claiming to be the one that the Prophet Isaiah was pointing to. In other words, Jesus is the One who came to bring good news to the poor, comfort for the brokenhearted, and freedom for captives. The one thing all of these people have in common is that they are broken people. He came to make a practical difference to a people who were hurting.
- WHO ARE THE POOR?
The Greek word for poor means “one who is destitute of wealth, influence, position, honour”. In other word, it is not just people who do not have a lot of material riches. The Greek word indicates that Jesus was going to preach good news to the outcasts. He came to preach good news to those whom the world saw as valueless. Jesus did not come to associate with the “movers and shakers”, nor to settle scores with the powerful and popular people of the world. He came to preach good news to the very people whom the world often overlooks. Such people feel insignificant in the world. They have no remarkable talents. They do not possess that rare physical beauty that makes the world take notice. They do not have the money for designer clothes. They may not be able to afford the toys that others have. They may be those who have a very poor control over their emotions which causes others to stay away from others. They may be those with a disability of some sort. They may have an abrasive or harsh personality. They may not be intellectually gifted. Such persons may not possess athletic ability; they are just “average” in most human abilities.
If we take an honest look into ourselves, we would find that most of us feel somewhat insignificant in the world, no matter how well-to-do we may feel we are. Most people feel empty to the extent that they could leave this earth and few people would mourn. This means that Christ came to the earth to reach out to the majority of us. He came to reach out to the average people of the world. He came to reach out to you and to me.
The Hebrew word for “poor” seems to carry a different shade of meaning. The word contains the same idea of the Greek word but adds the idea of humility and meekness. It is the same thought we read in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”. Jesus was coming to preach good news to the people who had the right spirit. He came to bring good news to the humble. He came to address the people who were aware of their need. He came for people who were open to instruction. The poor people in this case are the people who recognize their own sinful nature and their personal limitations. Such people know that they need help. Most of these people have at one time or another cried out, “O Lord, please help me!” Jesus came in response to their cries. Jesus did not spend a great deal of time working with the religious leaders who were so wrapped up in their own significance and importance. They were unwilling to hear and listen. They did not think they needed a Saviour.
- WHAT IS THE GOOD NEWS OF JESUS?
There are several elements to this good news: First of all, Jesus is telling each and every one of us that “God knows who you are”. In a society where one may feel like an outcast, it is easy to believe that one does not matter to anyone. That is the way many people feel in life. The good news that Christ came to give to the world is this: God sees us. The world may not notice us, but God does. He knows our name. He knows our hurts; he knows our longings. The Creator knows those whom the world dismisses. This fact is good news, indeed.
Secondly, Jesus is announcing to us that “God loves you”. God does not only know us, but he also loves us. God could have sent Christ into the world to proclaim a message of judgment. He could have pointed out our sin and extended God’s judgment. But he did not. He came to bring us GOOD news: that “We are valuable enough for Jesus to die for us. We are loved so much that God paid the highest price unconditionally.”
Thirdly, Jesus Christ “provides the way for us to have forgiveness and new life” The most common use of the phrase “good news” in the Bible is in reference to the good news of salvation. The good news of salvation is that sinful people (like you and me) can be forgiven, made new, and welcomed as part of God’s family. The good news of the gospel is that there is hope. We must have faith in Jesus who delivered the good news.
God sent Christ into the world to pay the price for our rebellion and sin. He sent Him to die so that we might be set free to experience and enjoy God’s love forever. Our job is to put your hand in his and trust his ability to pull you out of the mired circumstances of your life. This is the gospel message. This is the “good news”.
- WE ARE ALL A BROKEN PEOPLE
Jesus came for broken people. We are that broken people. This brokenness should help us show grace to each other. This realization is so important as we think about reaching out to a lost world. The world looks at the church and assumes that it is comprised of people who “have it all together”. We need to take every opportunity that we have to remind people that we are not perfect. We are broken people who have been made new by an undeserved grace. The church is not a museum of saints, but a hospital for sinners, says Pope Francis. It is a place to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the broken; it is a place where the outcasts feel nearness, proximity. We enter the Church as a mess and we work together with the Lord to become something of value and honour. For, as St. Paul says in the second Reading of today: “God has so constructed the body as to give greater honour to a part that is without it, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another” (1Cor 12:24-25). Jesus healed people of diseases and infirmities. He delivered those who were possessed and mentally tormented. He gave forgiveness to those who were noteworthy failures and he extended love and tenderness to those who had been cast aside. Look at the make-up of the disciples: fishermen, tax-collectors, and even a political zealot. This was not some elite army. These were common people who had been called by God for an extraordinary work.
This, however, is not an excuse for sinful behaviour. What we are saying is that we need to remind others and ourselves that we are a REDEEMED PEOPLE, not PERFECT PEOPLE. In other words, we are broken people who are in the process of being made new by Christ. When we come to Chris,t he begins a process of transformation. But it is a process. Recognizing this is very liberating.
The mission of Jesus is also the mission of the Church, since Jesus founded the Church to continue his mission on earth for all time and in all places. As disciples of Jesus and members of the Church that he founded, we are called to join his mission of making a practical difference in the lives of the hurting and broken people of our world today. We can do this by being honest about our own brokenness and accepting that others can be broken too. We must understand that we all form one Church in spite of our personal, tribal, linguistic, national and other difference. We can also make a difference by acknowledging and helping others (our children, neighbours, husband/wife, our difficult friends, work-colleagues, etc.) to realize that God loves us in spite of our broken nature. Finally, we can bring positive change in our society by pointing hurting people (including ourselves) in the direction of Jesus. Jesus is the great physician. He understands the real problem and he has the resources and the desire to address those problems. “Come to me, all you who labour and are over-burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28).