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 the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, those words of Jesus “a year acceptable to the Lord” made passing reference to the jubilee of the year A.D. 28. Nearly 2000 years on, we today have some vague awareness of the jubilee tradition in Israel after having ourselves experienced a modern jubilee in the year 2000. A jubilee year in Israel was meant to be one of renewal and rejoicing: renewal for all who had been wandering from the way of the Lord, and rejoicing for the suffering and needy who were to receive redress for past injuries and help in present difficulties. Even in modern times and among nations and international organizations overwhelmingly concerned with politics and money rather than with religious issues, nevertheless, in the year 2000 that spirit of jubilee enabled many poor nations to have their debts either notionally wiped out or else substantially reduced.
In our Gospel reading Jesus was just beginning His public ministry, just starting to proclaim the Good News that, through Him, God was offering salvation to His People. Jesus was inaugurating not just one acceptable year, but – as was fitting for what would be the Jubilee of all jubilees – a whole new relationship with God; a relationship whereby Israel, and ultimately the whole of mankind, would be offered freedom from the bonds of sin – the source of all human suffering -- and endowment by the Gift of the Holy Spirit sent to form us in Jesus as children of God, children for whom God would be a true Father, children destined to share an inheritance in heaven with God’s only-begotten Son made Flesh.
Dear People of God, this Good News that Jesus was announcing at that favourable time was something to be celebrated, and in this respect, we should remember how Mary our Mother was urged to respond to God’s offer of a Son-and-Saviour when the angel Gabriel addressed her at the Annunciation. He began telling her of God’s offer by saying, “Rejoice, Mary, the Lord is with you”, for the Christian message, the Good News of Christ, is not to be merely accepted, it needs to be embraced with sincere and, indeed, wholehearted rejoicing by all children of Mary, and this is something that we Catholics need to recall to our Christian awareness and make part of our every-day lives.
The Scriptures offer us over the ages a developing message of salvation and ever deepening awareness of the true nature of human faith called for by such divine goodness. In the first reading we heard:
Ezra read plainly from the book of the Law of God, interpreting it so that al could understand what was read. Then Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest-scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to all the people, "Today is holy to the Lord your God; do not be sad and do not weep" for all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the Law. He said further, "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 book of the Law had been lost and it had just been found again. As the people, gathered together to hear it publicly read once again after very many years, listened to that reading, they were made aware of their past sins and present sinfulness and they wept. But they were told: “This day is holy to the Lord, do not be grieved.” Why not? Because this was a holy people whom God had been preparing for over a thousand years, and they were, at this very moment, showing themselves to be uniquely able -- on hearing what was good and true -- to recognise and bewail their present sinful state and regret the past offences against their saving God and loving Father. Such tears were those of lost children re-discovering an affinity of love and aspiring to fulfilment through obedience, not those of rebels hating God’s Law though fearing its warnings against all transgressors.
People of God, all human beings are sinners before God: God alone is holy. But those who are in the worst state, those who most need to weep, are those who are able and willing to deceive themselves into thinking either that they are good enough of themselves, or that it doesn’t matter whether one is holy or not. Such people will never humbly weep for their sins here on earth; and, as Jesus warned, should they die in them, they will have to shed many unwilling and bitter tears as a result.
Oh, dear friends in Christ, it is a wonderful blessing to know and appreciate the Gospel proclamation: it gives us an opportunity to choose what is beautiful and true, to opt for what favours life and reject what is false and deadly. The ability to find joy in, or shed tears over, the Gospel is a cause for very great joy, because it is a sign that God is taking hold of, and claiming, you as His own. Therefore, let us take to heart today those final words of that passage from Nehemiah:
Rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength.
People of God, the Gospel can and should be the joy of our lives, and it is up to each of us to appreciate this and to try ever more and more to delight in the Lord.
This is initially a matter of sensible choice and good will: does a healthy person go around miserable because she cannot eat as many cream cakes as she would like, or because he cannot booze himself silly every night in the pub, or live day after day on a drug-induced cloud nine? Not at all! The physically healthy are happy to know what they should avoid so as to safeguard their well-being, and those who are spiritually healthy are happy because they have real life and are able to seek for its true and eternal fulfilment. Even happier are those who can delight in the goodness and beauty that surrounds us on every hand in God’s good and beautiful creation and among His people imbued with fraternal charity and mutual respect.
Dear People of God, if you want to be true disciples of Jesus, to become true sons and daughters of our Father in heaven, then try to think more and more of those ‘ordinary’ blessings that surround us every day.
What a joy it is to be able to appreciate what is all around us here on earth … the male blackbird singing, flowers blooming and birds popping-up and darting here and there, the trees affording us a galaxy of autumn tints when their dying leaves are most beautiful and inspiring – or chastening -- for humans growing old! How awesome it can be to look up into the heavens and appreciate, delight in, all that can be seen of nature there as expressive of the beauty, majesty, and power of God, our Father Who made them all and holds them in being, rather than simply observe them as sources of light, resulting from mere chance, which bespeak of nothing other than cosmic separation and of a cold, cold, beauty devoid of any personal significance for us!
A yet greater Catholic and Christian blessing it is, dear People of God, to have peace in your heart with a good conscience; to be humble before God, and to believe that He is using all the daily events of life -- be they big or apparently insignificant -- to help, guide, and draw you towards Himself. And, above all, it is an incomparable blessing, to be able to look forward to eternal life: relying, not on any proudly asserted personal merits, but on God’s infinite mercy, and His unfailing, and indeed already experienced, goodness towards us personally in Jesus; to know that eternal life will be home, where the beauty, the wisdom, the power, and the goodness of the Infinite God will fill all the members of the Father’s heavenly family with delight and unending bliss, because He wills to be for us the most perfect of Fathers and to share His glory with us in Jesus.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we have been given much, but there is much more to come … Jesus is with Mother Church to the end of time. Jesus is with Mother Church, in her, for YOU. In her and through me His priest, He is saying to you personally today, The Spirit of the Lord has been given to Me, for He has anointed Me, He has sent Me to bring the good news to you, to set you free, give you new sight, to proclaim a blessed season of your Father’s favour in which He wants you to become, in Me, His true child.
Want that, People of God, want, in this season of favour, to become a true child of your heavenly Father in Jesus, and you are well on the way, as the Psalmist (37:4) assures us:
Delight yourself in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.
Therefore, think more on the things of God, and less on the things of this world; think on God and learn to delight in Him. And, trusting in His goodness, seek to know His will and try to do it joyfully. In that way, you will surely share the confidence of St. Luke who wrote His Gospel, as he tells us:
So that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.