In the midst of the distressing political situation that our country is currently facing with the government shut-down, with each side blaming the other, and all people genuinely disgusted with any lack of leadership from anyone, we can feel pessimistic about the future of our country. Yet, our Scripture readings for this third Sunday of the church year give us hope, a vision for something eternally better in our future, and therefore, our motivation to continue doing our best to cope with the challenges facing us in our present circumstances. One of the great characteristics highlighted by the Gospel is that despite the current problems/challenges that confront us, we keep moving forward as long as we have hope in a vision for something better in the future. In today’s Gospel reading from the very first chapter of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus begins his public ministry. Luke records what His first sermon was and what would be His constant message: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”
Dr. Carmen M. Nanko-Fernandez, a professor of Hispanic Theology and Ministry at CTU, reflects on how Jesus returned to the place of his youth and read from the scrolls to remind those assembled what he had learned and that he had learned it well. Jesus claims for himself the familiar words of the prophet Isaiah, that “the Spirit of God is upon me.” To be anointed with the spirit comes great responsibility. Such an anointing demands the work of justice. Jesus quotes from Isaiah that this very moment is the time to free captives, liberate all who are oppressed, and bring good news to the poor.
Luke’s Jesus reminds us a few verses later that such work is risky business. The message of Jesus speaks to ways we have all attempted to domesticate the Holy Spirit. When we think of the Spirit of God, we may imagine a peaceful white dove, a comforter, someone who supports the status quo, an advocate without the sharp edge of advocacy. Dr. Carmen suggests that the world today prefers a spirit less persistent, less irritating, and less demanding than the one that gets Jesus run out of his own home town. We do not appreciate a dis-comforter, who shakes us out of our comfort zones, who finds in our diversity new ways to make common cause. We avoid a spirit who vexes and cajoles us to be prophetic advocates, who pushes us to the margins in church and society, family and nation. The Incarnation of the spirit is not best represented by the white dove, according to Dr. Carmen, but is more like the ubiquitous urban pigeon: disruptive, discomforting, irritating. The incarnation of the spirit is to be found in our prophetic communities, rich in diversity and animated in the spirit of God.
Scholars and theologians who write from the perspectives and experiences within disability studies insist that all bodies are not the same. Human bodies are different. Not all body parts are necessary for function or quality of life. Experiences of disability shift the focus away from the body, as if it were an abstraction. Theologian John Swinton proposes that as we gaze upon our different bodies, rather than assuming that there is a need for healing and change, either now or in the future, we recognize each one, each body, as a site of holiness and a place for meeting. The Incarnation of the spirit is to be found in all prophetic communities. Diversity lived at the intersections of embodied differences. The spirit of God breathes life into each one of us. The spirit encourages us to exhale. The same spirit urges us on to cry out, “enough already” to all that stifles its movement for justice in our churches, in our countries, and our world at large.
When Jesus says “this is the time of fulfillment,” He is really saying what St. Paul said to the Corinthians. This is the “ultimatum,” the “life-threatening” moment that we need to pay attention to, or run the risk of missing the Gift of Salvation. That means that we need to take seriously this “moment” and go through whatever “change of heart” we need to go through so that we can truly believe in this Gospel, this Good News, and be a part of the Kingdom of God by being an active, believing, and witnessing member of the Body of Christ. What we are being asked to do is to listen to and accept Jesus’ invitation: “Come after me.” For all of us, our “ultimatum moments” and circumstances may likely come one day. May we be wise enough to not wait until those moments arrive, but rather to embrace the truth of God’s love and live in God’s ways here and now. Let us make sure that we are living our lives in faith, in spite of whatever our life circumstances may be in the present, that we will live with the virtue of hope, holding on to the vision of what ultimate goodness awaits us in our shared relationships with one another.
–Fr. Rich Jakubik