My dear sisters and brothers in Jesus Christ. Today on this third Sunday of Ordinary time in year three, also called the year of Luke, we have begun our readings from the Gospel of Luke.
If Jesus on his arrival in the synagogue in Nazareth was given the book of Isaiah to read, this year the church is placing into our hands the Gospel of Luke on the Sundays of ordinary time. Like Jesus we too need to read the text that is given to us, with reverence and as a church we should be able to say that the text is being fulfilled even as you listen. This will become a reality only to the extent that the Church really becomes the good news to the people who are on the peripheries for a variety of reasons.
Jesus as he began his Galilean ministry, made the text form Isaiah his mission statement, and affirmed his preferential option for the poor, the prisoners, the blind and the oppressed. And these are indeed the preferential options of the gospel of Luke and should become the preferred option of the Church today.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio had been pope for only three days when he first uttered a phrase that has since become a refrain for his papacy. Speaking to a large gathering of journalists, the bishop of Rome explained how he came to choose the name Francis: “And those words came to me” he said: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi…. He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man…. How I would like a church that is poor and for the poor!
How I would like a church that is poor and for the poor! What exactly, do these words mean?
We can identify two ways that the church is for the poor. The first is that the church seeks to provide for the needs of the materially and spiritually poor. We typically associate this first way of being for the poor with works of mercy. The 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel sets forth our obligations to the “least of these”: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned. The church traditionally adds a seventh, bury the dead. There are also, of course, the spiritual works of mercy: instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish sinners, suffer wrongs with patience, forgive willingly, comfort the afflicted and pray for the living and the dead. These are concrete ways in which the church can be for the poor, providing material and spiritual goods that are otherwise lacking.
And then there is the second way in which the church is for the poor: the church is for the poor in that we, the members of the body of Christ, are all afflicted by sin and the poverty of our fallen condition. God’s perfect response to our most profound poverty is his mercy, and the Church, is the privileged channel of that mercy—the very sacrament of our salvation.
And this is precisely what we find in the second part of the text of Isaiah read by Jesus. Luke in his gospel uses the word liberty and liberation when referring to the liberation that comes through the forgiveness of sins. Liberation from personal and social bondages that enslave both society and individuals. Jesus quoting Isaiah says he is announcing the year of Lord’s mercy. What is this year of Lord’s Mercy? It is nothing other than the Jubilee year prescribed by Mosaic Law in Deuteronomy chapter fifteen verses one to eleven and the Book of Leviticus chapter twenty five verses eight to nineteen.
From the time of Christ we are in an extended jubilee year and the mission of the church, and that would mean each one of us, is to continue to believe for ourselves and to announce to others the year of God’s mercy. Whatever temporary good we may accomplish by our own works of mercy, they can never replace that divine mercy, but instead serve as its heralds. When our labours on behalf of the poor—our works of mercy—are cut off from the proclamation of the One Who Saves, our work remains sterile, merely human.
Following the example of Jesus the poor man who opted to be on the side of the poor and heading the invitation of our Holy Father, to be a church that is poor and for the poor, may each one of us be able to commit ourselves to this task and make the Gospel text a reality in our surroundings. Let us pray that the church be able to say to the less privileged of the society that this text is being realised in your hearing.