“Hometown Boy Makes Good.” I imagine the headlines if 1st century Palestine had a newspaper. When Jesus stood at the reader’s lectern in his home synagogue in Nazareth, he chose a very specific passage from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah to describe his mission. I imagine it was an epiphany to the local folks. As Christmas unfolded for us at Saint Mary’s this year, our readers got many kudos from guests and regulars alike. They proclaim in our venerable raised pulpit slowly consciously and with gusto. All eyes were on him, St. Luke said, as Jesus painted a new vision of what God dreamed for Israel and the world – good news for the poor, liberty for captives, sight to the blind, freedom for all from oppression, and a time of grace and forgiveness. That’s quite a mission statement!
No doubt his hearers were familiar with Isaiah’s Suffering Servant song. But most thought of it as the fulfillment of history in the future. What Jesus then said was a daring and surprising thing: “Today this passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” He came home convinced of the Spirit’s personal anointing to proclaim Isaiah’s vision.
So began a revolution of the heart, a movement already leaning into the future, advancing new values and inaugurating a new kind of hometown. Our Dr. Martin Luther King called it a “beloved community,” a revolution in the world itself. Only over time would humanity understand this new energy that was changing the direction of history, not by violent overthrow or force but like leaven in the mass, salt bringing new flavor and vitality to life. Within a few generations, the Christian “WAY” would be guiding the world into a new era.
The crucial words in Jesus’ prediction in Nazareth that day were “in your hearing.” Jesus’ mission statement was an invitation that invites to engage, everyone who hears it. If the words make their way to the heart, great power is unleashed; transforming power! Our own news and social media have been filled disturbing images and questions this week since the March for Life on Washington. What can we expect from professed Catholics and our institutions of learning? Are they civil, respectful and engaging? Do they represent the values of the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed at the Nazareth synagogue and Calvary’s cross? Much to ponder!
As we Catholics gather the third Ordinary Sunday of the year, we pray that Jesus’s description of his own calling will animate “the baptized” of our era into his mission. The Spirit of the Lord is upon us, anointing us. When we hear these words, deeply and decisively, the body of Christ is revealed, manifested again by the star. That’s still Christmas language.
Join us for the Candlemas procession next Friday evening and the parish bike ride around our parish boundaries next Saturday. We hope to see ourselves and our hometown Phoenix location with new eyes.
A gentle week,
Fr. Michael Weldon, OFM