25 January 2010
Do you believe in Jesus?
3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) – 24 January 2010
Readings: Neh 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10; Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 15; 1 Cor 12:12-30 or 12:12-14, 27; Lk 1:1-4; 4:14-21
This Sunday is also National Bible Awareness Sunday. The readings are most appropriate to the celebration. Both the First and Gospel readings show the profound impact of the Scriptures on their listeners.
The First Reading from the Book of Nehemiah contains a heartwarming historical scene during the period of rebuilding after the return of the exiles. Among the first things the people did was to gather and listen to the Scriptures. The reading started at daybreak and extended till noon! All this time, the people listened attentively as Ezra read and interpreted the book of the law. They were also weeping as they hear the words of the law, prompting Nehemiah to exhort them not to weep for “Today is holy to the LORD your God.”
This Old Testament story has parallels with the Gospel passage this Sunday. The people were gathered at Sabbath in the Nazareth synagogue. Jesus read from the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah. All eyes were upon him. The people could feel something special about this man Jesus whom many of them knew. And then He said: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Jesus has just identified Himself to his hometown as a prophet and more: He is the fulfillment of their prophecies about the Messiah who is to come.
Did they believe him? The succeeding verses recount the mixed reaction Jesus got: from acceptance and amazement to disbelief and agitation, until finally they attempted to kill him by trying to drive him over a cliff. But His death at their hands was not meant to be. At least not yet.
More importantly, the question to ask is: “Do we believe Him now?” Before we make a quick and easy response towards the affirmative, let us examine carefully first Is 61,1-2, the short verse that Jesus read:
“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.”
Do you believe that this passage is already fulfilled? Maybe the part about Jesus being anointed by the Spirit. But what about the blessings promised to the poor, the prisoners, the blind and the oppressed?
Since the time Jesus proclaimed the Scripture passage to have been already fulfilled, there is still so much to be done. People are still poor, and not just materially. There are those who are lonely and rejected; those burdened with a mentality that keeps them poor and perpetually dependent upon some master or patron; those afflicted with an unquenchable desire to acquire, else they will always feel inadequate.
People are still captives, and not just those in jail for crimes. There are those imprisoned by guilt, by hatred, by their unmet needs for redemption, forgiveness and reconciliation.
People are still blind, and not just physically. There are those blinded by prejudice, ignorance, envy, pride and fear; those who have been so hurt and jaded they could no longer see the goodness of humanity or hope in themselves.
People are still being oppressed. Even oppressors themselves have their own far stronger oppressors to deal with. There are those overcome with self-pity and despair.
It is rather funny but my reflection on Is 61,1-2 has led me to associate it with the current slew of election campaign ads. Practically every candidate vows to help the poor in some way. Some are even in a mad scramble as to who could be identified the most with the poor.
Though many of these campaign ads may appear cheap and shallow, there is a striking similarity between them and Jesus’ declaration. For them to find fulfillment, one thing is required in both cases: we have to believe in them. The candidates and their PR team wish that we could believe enough to vote for them, and hopefully campaign for them among our circle of friends.
In a way, the same is true with Jesus and his Good News of salvation. Because we have free will no one could be saved who doesn’t choose to be saved or thinks he doesn't need any saving.
1. We need to believe in Jesus.
And belief is not only profession of faith, but living one’s faith. This is especially true during times when our friendship with Jesus entails that we turn our back on family and loved ones, or that we forsake some forms of income or livelihood.
For those in situations like these, St. Paul in Rom 8,28 has words of reassurance: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
2. We need to believe in the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ.
We are not saved as individuals. God intends to save us as a community of believers, as the body of Christ. St. Paul in 1 Cor 12,12 (in the Second Reading) says: “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.”
Being a member of Christ’s body entails more than just being baptized. It means opening the Scriptures and letting God speak through its inspired words. It means participating and promoting the Church’s Sacred Traditions, the other font of spiritual knowledge and grace. It means finding nourishment and support in the community of believers.
When we believe in Jesus and participate in His community this way, we bring about a transformation first from within us. As our will gradually becomes more united with God’s will we find that we are more and more enriched, freed, enlightened and empowered by His grace.
Then we will see the same transformation happening in the community. When that time comes, it will indeed be a year of favor from the Lord.
One last story…
A young man, his mind filled with ideals and good intentions, has been getting increasingly disappointed at the many wrongs he saw in society. There is poverty and crime, hunger and war, corruption begetting more corruption, etc.
One night he had a dream about God. Finally, he could ask the question he longed to ask Him. He said: “Lord, if you are all powerful, then why are there so many who suffer? Why are evil men allowed to hold on to power? Why are there so many wrongs in society? Why have you not done enough to take them all away?
God replied: “My child, but I have already done enough. I have sent my Son to save you and my Spirit to guide you. And then, of course – I made you.”