“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing,” Jesus says as he inaugurates his public ministry in the Lukan account. The passage to which he refers comes from Isaiah and is recounted in the Gospel: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
Each part of this passage gives insight into the life and ministry of Jesus which will become known as the Gospel unfolds.
Jesus is the Lord’s anointed. Literally Jesus is the “Christ” or “messiah.” His anointing took place at the baptism. He is the prophet who will announce the day of the Lord. He will be the voice of the Father announcing salvation. The first to hear this proclamation will be the poor and oppressed.
Jesus is a friend of the poor. The “poor” in the Gospel represent two groups. The first is the economically poor. Jesus has an affinity for those who are poor or marginalized. Jesus is moved with compassion at the plight of the poor. As the Gospel unfolds he calls disciples to care for and provide for the poor.
The second group are those who are humble before the Lord. These are those who recognize that everything they have comes from the Lord; they are grateful before him and sing his praise. The poor are epitomized by Mary, Mother of Jesus and identified in her song of praise, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).
Jesus is the liberator of the captives, the sick and the oppressed. Jesus’ mission is to set people free. Here are mentioned three groups that represent persons being held captive – imprisoned, the sick and the oppressed. To these one might add the poor mentioned already.
Jesus will “proclaim” this message but will also be the means by which liberation comes. The freedom for life that Jesus wins for the captive is the liberation from sin and death. This will become more pronounced as the public ministry continues and Jesus makes his journey to Jerusalem.
In Jesus, a new age, the year of the Lord, has dawned. Jesus inaugurates the Year of the Lord. The “year of the Lord” is not to be thought of in terms of a calendar year but a period of time. The “year of the Lord” suggests a fulfillment. The mission of the Christ, God’s anointed, is to bring salvation to humanity. As we will see in the Gospel, this is accomplished in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.
The attempts to thwart this mission are real and serious (as seen in the very next passage in the Lukan account, where the crowd attempts to take Jesus’ life by throwing him off a cliff) but Jesus will continue until his mission is accomplished.
Jesus proclaims the prophetic message of the Lord and he fulfills that message in himself. He is filled with the “power of the Spirit,” who enlivens him to speak and animates his mission.
The salvation proclaimed by Jesus and accomplished in his self-offering at Calvary is the cause of great joy. We hear His words and are uplifted realizing that these word of deliverance are spoken to us. They are a message that gives us hope. Jesus is the source of our salvation and liberation. He is the one who sets us free from those things that enslave us, whether it be sin, poverty, sickness, suffering, oppression, or fear. This is the message Jesus acclaims and has accomplished.
In this Jesus fulfills the passage from Nehemiah which serves as the liturgy’s first reading: “Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep” and “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our Lord. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength.”
The spirit of rejoicing helps keep us in the way of salvation. Naturally the cares and anxieties of life, whatever they may be, weigh us down and depending on the situation may become a heavy burden.
Recognizing the love God has for us in Christ Jesus is the source of joy even in the midst of oppression. An oppression no matter how powerful and burdensome is nothing compared to the greatness of God’s love poured forth in his Son. Hence we join in responding: “Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.”
The second reading for Sunday’s Mass comes from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. In this passage, Paul uses the image of a body to highlight the unity we have with each other in Christ Jesus. Through baptism we are incorporated into the Body of Christ.
We the many are made one in Christ. So Paul states: “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of the one Spirit.”
The salvation won for us by Christ unites us into one body. Though made up of individuals with different gifts and different roles, we are one body in Christ. The union or communion that was severed with Adam’s sin is healed and transformed into something even greater. The bonds of love that unite us are founded in, established by and sustained through Jesus, the Christ.
As members of the Body of Christ, no matter what the role we have or the gifts we have been given, we are called to participate in the proclamation he uttered and the deliverance he accomplished. We do this by caring for the poor and suffering, the imprisoned and the marginalized. We do this by working to alleviate those conditions that rob people of life and burden them with oppression. All in the context of the salvation Jesus has won for us through his passion, death and resurrection.
Jesus is the source of our salvation. He is the Word who delivers us and saves us. He is the Word that fills us with life. He is the Word of God’s love and mercy. As we celebrate today we rejoice for today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in our hearing.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.