Jesus' call to liberation

Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

There was only one Temple in Israel, that of Jerusalem. But in every place where at least ten men could meet, there was a synagogue where a liturgical service led by community members was celebrated every sabbath.

In today's gospel (Lk. 1:1–4;4:14–21), we see Jesus in a synagogue in Nazareth "according to His custom." But this time, He went there for one more purpose, namely, to make the "inaugural address" for His ministry. He stood up and read from the prophet Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord... has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor... 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."

The words "liberty to captives" capsulize the hopes and aspirations of Israel. For at the core of the whole Old Testament is God's liberation of His people from the oppression and slavery in Egypt. And throughout the history of salvation God has continued this work of liberation.

Jesus now says that the Holy Spirit had anointed Him to proclaim "liberty to captives." And this will happen now: "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

In this His first sermon, Jesus defines His life's mission. Henceforth He would place Himself entirely in the service of those who are not free. Henceforth, He would reveal, by His words and by His life, the liberation God wants to bring about for people — it is people of flesh and blood that Jesus saves and not just their souls. This is the context with which we are to understand what Jesus intends to do after He has appropriated to Himself the words of Isaiah.

Bring glad tidings to the poor. Jesus wants to make the poor the first to participate in His mission as they are the ones most inclined to accept His message of salvation in view of their condition and simple lifestyles. By this it does not mean that Jesus only wants to bring the good news to the materially poor. He also brings it to those who think themselves rich but are really poor — those who rely only on themselves and their possessions and therefore have no place for God in their hearts.

Moreover, whether rich or poor, we all live in and are part of a broken world. We only have to scan the headlines of newspapers and news on TV and radio to discover what man has done to his fellows — he lives in a "dog eats dog" world — where the rich become richer and more powerful and the poor, poorer and without voice.

Proclaim liberty to captives. People who are not free are not only those found in jails. There are those who are prisoners of their selfishness, greed and hunger for wealth, fame and power. Finally, there are those who are enslaved by their vices and addictions — to lust, gambling, alcohol, drugs, etc.

Recovery of sight to the blind. We are blind if we only see our needs and not our neighbor's. We are blind if we can not distinguish between good and evil, between a just and unjust act. We are blind if we say we work for our children's future but we do not take measures to lessen pollution so that our children can breathe cleaner air, drink cleaner water and eat healthier food. We are blind if during elections we vote for popular rather than competent and caring candidates, i. e., those who will work for the common good.

Freedom to the oppressed. We see all kinds of oppression around us. Workers underpaid but cannot stand up for their rights for fear of losing their jobs. Squatters not getting out of the slums because their income are even hardly enough to feed their families. People who are so hard up and thus forced to borrow from usurers. People who are discouraged and depressed, who believe that no one cares for them.

Jesus had made these and more His life-mission. To carry this mission out, He went around feeding the hungry, curing the sick, giving sight to the blind, etc. In short, "doing good."

Jesus also preached. And at the core of His preaching was love — for God and for one another. Love that was universal, that left no one out. He did this since He knew that if people learned to love and acted out of love, then care, respect for others, understanding and reconciliation would follow. Then people would be liberated from what enslaved them. More, they would also set out to work for "liberty to captives," as Jesus did.

Jesus' one final act of love was His obedience to the Father, even unto death. With His death, Jesus' and His Father's love was liberated in the person of the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit is now present and works in us and in our midst. He asks us to effect changes within ourselves as well as for our commitment to carry on with what Jesus set out to do at His "inaugural address." Finally, He tells us not to be overwhelmed by the odds because He will always be with us.