Saint Mary of the Angels homilies and reflections

Homily, January 27, 2013, "Recognizing Jesus' Presence", Fr. Grégoire Catta, SJ

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Sunday Jan. 27th 2013/ St Mary of the Angels
Neh 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10 / Ps 19 / 12:12-30 / Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21

We have just heard the shortest homily ever! And because this homily was pronounced by Jesus you will agree with me, it was the best homily ever! Jesus is given the book of the prophet Isaiah to read. He does so very solemnly like a perfectly respected Jew. And then the people in the Synagogue turned to him, expecting a commentary, a homily, once again, simply following here a well-established custom among the Jews when they gather at the synagogue. And what does Jesus say? Only one sentence, the shortest and the best homily ever: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” Only one sentence, but what a sentence! I thought of limiting my homily today to repeating it – after all Jesus is my model, so why not do what he did? But finally, fortunately for you, or maybe unfortunately, I will try to say a little bit more…

This passage of the gospel of Luke that we’ve just heard is very important. The story of Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth marks the beginning of his public life and in a certain sense it gives the whole program of what is going to happen next. It is a sort of condensation, a summary of the whole Gospel of Luke. To make us better perceive this dimension, the people who established the lectionary, the book of our Sunday readings, decided to associate in the same reading two passages that are 4 chapters apart in the gospel of Luke. We had the very first verses of the gospel, where Luke explains what he wants to do: “Since many other have done so, I have too decided to write a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us.” And his interlocutor is a certain Theophilus. Probably not a real person but a fictive interlocutor that in fact designates anyone who loves God and searches for God. Theo means God and philus means love. So basically, Luke is writing for all of us who love and search for God. Just in passing, isn’t it great to have a book written for us?

So, we had the first verses of the gospel and then, all the infancy narratives are skipped, the story of Mary and Joseph in Bethleem, the story of Jesus lost and found again in the Temple when he was 12. The stories of John the Baptist, the baptism, and the temptations in the desert are skipped as well. John now is in prison. And we jump from chapter 1 verse 4, directly to Chap 4 verse 14. Jesus returns to Galilee and teaches in synagogues. We’ve heard about the story of Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth. Jesus reads the passage of Isaiah: “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.” And then Jesus says: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

This is all what Jesus’ mission is about: proclaiming that everything that was said in Isaiah is now fulfilled because He is present. God has visited his people. God has visited us. Jesus brings about God’s kingdom and this kingdom is “glad tidings to the poor, liberty to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed.” And we will see all along the Gospel of Luke how Jesus brings about God’s kingdom: curing many illnesses, restoring the sight of the blind people and the hearing of the deaf, freeing the lepers from the oppression of their exclusion, freeing those possessed by demons, welcoming the poor, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the marginalized at his table, preaching the good News to the poor. So yes, rightly, Jesus can say “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”  Jesus’ presence in our world is transformative. Jesus’ presence in our world brings about God’s kingdom.

For us today that means that we can recognize Jesus’ presence whenever and wherever God’s kingdom grows. Whenever and wherever there are glad tidings for the poor, freedom for the oppressed, liberation for the captives, restoration of sight for the blind, in brief whenever and wherever the dignity of human life is recognized, when the marginalized find their place in the community, when everyone is given the opportunity to flourish in love. And so we can recognize Jesus’ presence in what we see around us, in our parish community, in our neighborhood, at work. And there is no need for God or Jesus to be explicitly named, Jesus is present when humanity flourishes because injustices are fought, suffering and wounds and healed, care and love are provided. And all of you, I’m sure, you have in mind examples of this. “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Yes, but at the same time, when we hear this, we cannot but think: “Well, Jesus, are you really sure you mean what you say?” Because, there are still plenty of captives, plenty of blind people, plenty of poor not really glad, plenty of injustices…  It was already the case when Jesus was in the synagogue in Nazareth and it is still the case today. So what do we mean by reaffirming that because God came to visit us, because Jesus is present among us, “today this Scripture passage is fulfilled”?

Well, we are not naïve. We are affirming with a strong faith, a belief that is at the same time a hope. The belief and the certitude that God’s kingdom is already at work among us, that Isaiah’s passage is already at work, and at the same time the hope that the completion will come when everything will be recapitulated. This hope drives us, gives us energy to work at the coming of God’s kingdom of justice, but it reminds us as well that we are not yet at the end of the journey and that the justice of God will always surpass the achievements of our human realizations. Bringing about what Isaiah’s passage says, this is what we are call to work on; the fulfillment of it? It is God’s endeavor.

We believe and we hope in Jesus words: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled.” And we follow him with what comes after. Right after those words, the people of Nazareth at first completely astonished, quickly change their mind. “Isn’t he the son of Joseph?” and they doubt, and they become angry, and they even try to kill Jesus. The bringing about of the kingdom is not without resistances, without opposition, sin has to be overcome; structures of injustice have to be overcome. When Jesus says “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled” it includes also the obstacles, it includes the Cross. That’s why we can truly believe these words, that’s why we can truly hope in the kingdom of God. It is not mere trust in human partial realizations of justice, it is an absolute trust in God that a new earth will come about. So when we work for more justice, more love, more care for one another, it is not our successes that make us believe that “Today, God’s kingdom  comes”, it is on the contrary, our faith in the words of Jesus saying “Today, this Scripture passage is fulfilled” that gives us the energy to carry on our work for justice, love, care for one another.

Yes, “Today, this Scripture passage of Isaiah is fulfilled”, today the poor are glad, the oppressed are freed, the blind can see. Not because our world is already perfect but because we have been entrusted by God to work at the coming of the Kingdom of Justice and because we believe that Jesus is present in our endeavor and he, not us, will bring it to its completion.

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