The Baclaran shrine has become well-known among the devotees through these years as a shrine of vigorous preaching about justice, peace and other social issues. The Redemptorists have always been very vocal in preaching about the burning issues in the world and country today in the light of the gospel. Because of this, every now and then, we get reactions from devotees. When devotees asked us why do we have to preach on social issues, I often quote today’s gospel text, the very words of Jesus which has come to be known as Jesus’ mission statement. Some of them are surprised to hear these words as they may not sound particularly religious. Some even could not believe that they actually come from Jesus. Many of them have believed for a long time that being Catholic is merely going to mass, receiving sacraments, praying the novena. For them, the Catholic faith is merely a spiritual activity and has nothing to do with the concrete realities of the everyday life of the ordinary people.
Today’s readings of the 3rd Sunday in ordinary time talks about the essential importance of the proclamation of the Word of God in Christian faith and life. The Word of God proclaims God’s eternal plan of total salvation and liberation of all peoples from sin and all forms of evil and oppression. The proclamation of the Word of God is both and at the same proclaimed in words and action; they are not mutually exclusive nor can be separated from each other.
In the First Reading from the book of Nehemiah, Israel, the people of God, has newly returned to Jerusalem from captivity in Babylon. They listened to Ezra, a priest-scribe who read the law (Torah) for the first time. After Israel’s exile from Babylon, the Torah was just completed. Ezra read the law for more than six hours, to men, women and children old enough to understand (7 years old up). While Ezra read the Torah, the assembly cried as all around them lay the ruins of what Israel and Jerusalem and the Temple and God’s people had once been.
In the second reading, St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, proclaimed about how the Body of Christ, the Church, is to live out the mission statement of Jesus. St. Paul points out that all members of the Church have gifts for ministry. The members of the Church, however, have different gifts for ministry; we are not clones of each other. The different gifts can only come to life in the context of the whole.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus, following his river baptism and his long wilderness fast and temptation, returns to his home town of Nazareth. Reports about him have been spreading through the population, probably the result of his healing miracles and his synagogue teaching. So when he comes back home, it’s quite a big day in the synagogue. It was the day of Sabbath. Everybody’s there, eager to hear the local boy who’s making a name for himself.
Like Ezra, he takes up a scroll, this one containing the book of Isaiah. He reads a passage which says that the Spirit of the Lord has sent him to “bring glad tidings to the poor, … to let the oppressed go free,” to proclaim a time of favor from the Lord (Is 61: 1-2).
After reading these verses, Jesus rolls up the scroll, returns it to the attendant, and takes his seat. It is the custom for teachers to sit, rather than to stand. So when Jesus sat, everyone looked at him, expecting some commentary, some explication of this text, a text well known to many of them. Jesus, however, merely said,
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
This is, very possibly, the world’s shortest sermon, but packs lots of punch. The people of Israel have waited for centuries for the fulfillment of promises that God made throughout their history, beginning with Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3). Now Jesus declares that the wait is over — that the day has come — that the promises are fulfilled — that salvation is nigh! This is, indeed, good news.
Jesus claims for himself the ancient prophetic words as his own mission statement. He bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free, proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, the sweet Jubilee Year, when the economy will be conformed anew to God’s justice.
Jesus’ mission statement did not become merely a string of high-sounding words (as some mission statements do). Everything that follows in his life, as presented to us in the Gospel, amounts to the living out of the prophecy he claims for himself that sabbath morning in Nazareth.
Today, we are called by Jesus to continue his proclamation of the Word of God. In order to be true Catholics or Christians, we should not be content with living our faith merely by going to mass, praying the novena or receiving the sacraments. To be true Catholics and Christians we need to reclaim Jesus’ mission statement as our mission statement too. In the light of today’s reality of continuous suffering by many of our people–the exploited poor, unemployed, homeless, the addicted, refugees, indigenous peoples, the wounded creation, the elderly who are increasingly isolated and abandoned, and many others, the proclamation of Jesus’ glad tidings remains imperative and urgent as ever. As each one of us has our own distinctive gifts, as St. Paul said, we are called to apply and share our gifts generously for the continuation of the enactment of Jesus’ mission statement.
Let us pray for the courage and grace of the Holy Spirit that we may become vibrant hearers, proclaimers and doers of Jesus’ words, our Lord and primary missionary of God.