In today’s Gospel that we just heard proclaimed, Jesus had returned to His hometown of Nazareth. He went to the synagogue where families would gather to hear the words of Sacred Scripture being read, taught and reflected on. When He got up to read, one of the synagogue officials handed Him the scroll of the Sacred text. Jesus looked through it and found the text of the Prophet Isaiah 61:20 and read, “The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me.” Here Jesus affirmed that He is filled with the Wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit.
Being so filled by the Holy Spirit Jesus then continued, and proclaimed, “He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, and to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour . . . and this text is fulfilled today even as you listen.”
We can reflect on today’s Gospel from two possible perspectives. First, this Good News of Jesus to the “poor, captives, blind and downtrodden” could be directed to each of us as we too are “poor” if our hearts and homes are not yet filled with the riches of God’s graces. We too are “captives” if we are “slaves to seeking gold, glamour and glory of the secular world.” We too are “blind” if we do not have the wisdom to put Christ at the centre of our daily living. We too are “downtrodden” if we allow ourselves to drift with the crowd who believes that “happiness” is doing what I like in life, regardless of the pain and harm we cause to others – that’s not “happiness”; that is arrogance and irresponsible freedom.
The Good News of Jesus is “Good News” to us only if we first acknowledge that we are the “poor, captives, blind and downtrodden” of today’s secular world; that we are each a sinner and in need of God’s Love and Mercy. How do we come to such an awareness of ourselves? It is no great secret or insight to say that we need to calm down from our daily hectic living, and have more silence and create more sacred space in our lives.
John Bunyan, the well-known 17th century English minister, preacher and author of the book, “Pilgrim’s Progress” once wrote, “I find my heart is slow to go to God; and when it does go to Him it does not seem to want to stay with Him; so that very often I am forced in my prayers, first to beg of God that he would take my heart and set it on Himself, and then when it is there, that He will keep it there.”
When each of our days are filled with so much to do, our hectic life can so easily rob us of the awareness that we are actually the “poor, captives, blind and downtrodden” that Jesus is referring to in today’s Gospel. So, the first practical consideration is to go to God and discover His presence in the silence of our hearts.
For this, we need to be very disciplined in setting aside time daily, even if this means 10 minutes a day, to be composed and silent with God who has been within my heart all day long and for whom I have neglected and ignored during the day.
To be renewed and restored in our relationship with God is so important because whether we are aware of it or not, it is He, our God, who has sustained and kept us alive and blessed us during the day. Such a stilling ourselves may not be easy and so our prayers could simply be,
“Lord, I just want to spend the next few minutes with You;
Just you and me . . .
Lord, help me to be still and silent
so that I can hear You speaking to me,
feel You caring for me
and reaffirm that You are loving me
. . . for what I am.
Lord, I feel exhausted . . .
I feel helpless . . .
I feel at times . . . life is cruel
Yet Lord, help me to believe that I am not alone
. . . for You are always there for me and with me.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, if we are able pray in such a simple and personal way, and if we are able to compose ourselves and create a greater awareness and establish a deeper connectedness with Jesus daily, then our “poverty, captivity, blindness and downtrodden” state of emptiness in life will turn into a “richness, freedom, wisdom and life-giving joy to others in our daily living. Do we not want this for ourselves and our families?
The second perspective of today’s Gospel could be this. When I was a young Jesuit scholastic some 30 years ago, I remember writing to one of our parishioners here to appeal for some money for a Filipino family whose one year old child, Maribeth was very sick and dying. I remember receiving about $2,000 from my appeal. The parishioner who sent me the money wrote to say that the money was from a Singaporean family who heard about Maribeth’s critical condition and had given me part of her savings. I was not only very happy to receive the money, but deeply touched because the Singaporean family who wanted to be anonymous, lived in a HDB flat, and said that she is sorry she could not send more as she only has less than $20,000 in her savings for her family. When she consulted her family everyone agreed that Maribeth needed the money more than them, and that they were willing to live a simpler life.
Let us remember that this unknown Singaporean family did not even know Maribeth. They simply trusted that my appeal was genuine. Moreover, they continued to ask through our parishioner, how Maribeth’s condition was. Their concern and compassion for Maribeth truly touched me deeply. And when I gave the money to Maribeth’s family, and told them the story, they were moved to tears. The Social Services of Cardinal Santos hospital whom Maribeth was admitted too waived all the expenses of Maribeth when I appealed to the management for a waiver. When Maribeth recovered after some weeks in the hospital, the university students and I were overjoyed, but sadly a few months later, Maribeth died of some other unexpected causes.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, the world is filled with millions of Maribeths and whose families are desperate, crying out to be freed from their paralysing fears and unbearable brokenness and emptiness, and whose daily sufferings are threatening to overwhelm them. The world is also filled with people, like the “Singaporean family” who reached out to Maribeth with a heart of gold and with the compassion of Christ. What about you and I?
We are each so blessed by God in so many ways. And when Jesus proclaims that He has come to set the “poor, captives, blind and downtrodden free” He is urging each of us to be His Light, Compassion and Consolation to those who are suffering in this world; whatever their pains and sufferings may be. We can neither say that we do not know of anyone who is suffering nor can we deny that we do not have enough opportunities to reach out to such suffering people. For these suffering people, God wants to set them free of their misery and pain, and He needs us to be His instruments to bring peace, compassion and love.
To conclude, let us recall the two key points of our reflection on today’s Gospel. First, we saw how today’s Gospel message could be referring to each of us. We could each be the “poor” of what Jesus proclaimed, if our hearts and homes are not yet filled with the riches of God’s graces. We too could be the “captives,” the “blind,” the “downtrodden” in our daily living, if we are not connected to God fully, personally and deeply enough. And, to acquire this, we need to calm down from our daily hectic living, have more silence and create more sacred space in our lives . . . to listen to God and to feel His Compassionate Love for us.
On the other hand, we too saw that there are millions of people suffering intensely; they are the “Maribeths and her family” who are threatened daily by their miseries and pains of life. What are we doing with the abundant graces that God has given us? Are we going to be like the model “Singaporean family” who shared so generously and felt so compassionately in Christ-like ways for Maribeth?
In short, today’s Gospel is challenging us to use God’s abundant blessing on us to live in His Wisdom and Truth, and also to be God’s Compassionate Love to those who are suffering. Will we obey God’s Will or will we ignore His challenges?
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
visitors since 31 January 2013