“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing”
The Old Testament passage (Neh. 8:2-41, 5-6, 8-10) describes a liturgy of the Word where the Law “which the Lord had given to Israel” was proclaimed and explained to the people, enabling them to understand what was read. When Ezra, the priest-scribe, read from the book of the Law, the people wept from the sheer emotion of hearing God’s Word. They had recognized the special character of the word proclaimed, producing a remarkable effect in their lives. Indeed, the community that actively sought the Law, not only heard it, but also understood its vital significance. The liturgical reading from the Law was not meant, to condemn, but to be a font of joy and strength for that assembly who hungered for the life-giving Word of God. Moreover, the divine Word that they had heard intently with their hearts moved them to a vital social action and impelled them to share compassionately their resources with the needy.
Today’s Gospel passage tells us that Jesus goes to Nazareth, where he grew up, and goes according to his custom into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and participates in the liturgy. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah is handed to him and, unrolling the scroll, Jesus solemnly proclaims the messianic prophecy: “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” (Lk 4:18-19). This passage is an excellent summary of the messianic work of Jesus, “the anointed” of the Spirit.
Jesus’ pronouncement about Isaiah’s prophecy: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing”(Lk 4:21), is an astounding revelation and a challenging moment of truth. Jesus of Nazareth declares himself to be the long-awaited Messiah and the fulfilment of the messianic yearning through the ages. However the people could neither understand nor grasp the truth as he grew up with them. He openly declared the messianic manifesto, which is His mission in the world.
A purposeful journey
Luke sees the public life of Jesus as a direct journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem. Unlike the other accounts, there will be no going back and forth between Galilee and Jerusalem. It is in Jerusalem, the city of peace, that Jesus will suffer and die. It is here that he will rise to life and become our Lord and Savior. And it is from here too that his disciples will go forth to every corner of the world with the Good News.
Good news for the disadvantaged
They are addressed directly to the materially poor, those in prison, the physically blind, the oppressed and exploited of the world. While Matthew speaks of “the poor in spirit”, Luke addresses the beatitude directly to “you who are poor, weep, are hungry and oppressed”. The message for them is one of hope, of healing and of liberation. This will come about not by some miracle but by the transformation of those who, aligning themselves with Jesus, can put an end to these things. We need to understand that there are rich and poor, powerful and weak, oppressors and oppressed, all are equally in need of liberation. So, in addition to the materially poor, there are those who are emotionally underdeveloped, those who are lonely or rejected and above all those who have lost their faith in God and being carried away by materialism. In Luke 7, when John the Baptist sends his disciples to find out if Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus tells them, “Go back and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind see again, the lame walk, those suffering from virulent skin-diseases are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”
In addition to those held in captivity, especially those who are unjustly in prison but also those who are guilty of some crime, need conversion and reconciliation. There are very few people indeed are truly free and many actually fear true freedom and the responsibility that goes with it. Jesus tells us that only truth can set us free and we need to enjoy the freedom of the children of God. Come to me all you who labor and over burdened, I will give you rest.
“Give sight to the blind.”
Physical blindness is far less disabling than the blindness that comes from prejudice, ignorance, jealousy and other emotional blocks. Most people, said a writer, “lead lives of quiet desperation”. We need to see beyond, often we have eyes but unable to see the light of the day or the events that surround us.
We need to ask ourselves a question. What does it mean to evangelize the poor? It means above all being close to them, having the joy of serving them, freeing them from oppression, and all this in the name of and with the Spirit of Christ, because He is the Gospel of God, He is the Mercy of God, He is the liberation of God. It is He Who was made poor in order to enrich us with His poverty. The text of Isaiah, reinforced by some small adaptations introduced by Jesus, indicates that the messianic proclamation of the Kingdom of God that has come amongst us is addressed in a preferential way to the marginalized, to prisoners, to the oppressed.
And we can ask ourselves: today, in our parish communities, in the associations, in the movements, are we faithful to the program of Christ? Is the evangelization of the poor, bringing to them the good news, the priority? It has to do with the strength of the Gospel of God, Who converts hearts, heals the wounded, transforms human and social relationships according to the logic of love. The poor, in fact, are at the center of the Gospel.
May the Virgin Mary, Mother of evangelizers, help us to feel strongly the hunger and thirst for the Gospel that exists in the world, especially in the heart and the flesh of the poor – and obtain for each one of us, the whole Christian community, to bear concrete witness to the mercy of God revealed in Christ.