Fulfilled This Day
I think the last time I was moved to tears at hearing the Word of God proclaimed was in high school. At a retreat I heard a passage also from Isaiah, but different from what Jesus read in the gospel. And I wasn’t hearing it cold. I had already heard a few talks and homilies. I had already spent a few hours in prayer and reflection, and had been writing a lot of my thoughts down. I had spent time sitting in silence waiting for the Holy Spirit to speak. So the scripture passage was to me the final blow that sent the walls of my cluelessness and indifference crumbling to pieces. Well, that sounded a lot more dramatic than I remember. But ever since, I was convinced God had something important to tell me. I say it all the time to young people with whom I go on retreat. “Listen,” I tell them. “God wants to tell you something wonderful. But you are the only one who will know it when it happens.”
I don’t think I’ve ever shared a religious breakthrough like we read in the first reading, some kind of communal mind-blowing encounter with God. Well, on second thought, I’ve been to World Youth Day four times. And every time the Holy Father’s bulletproof carriage appeared, those around me either swooned or entered a state of delirium or ecstasy. But I can’t say I’ve shared the experience. I actually never swooned or became delirious or ecstatic. And I have wondered why time and again, and what was wrong with me. Eventually something even more wonderful and amazing came to light at my last World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008, and all without swooning or falling into some state of delirium or ecstasy. More on that later. Incidentally, it is also the reason I don’t go to World Youth Day anymore, besides not being a youth. And I am confident I won’t need to learn that same lesson again.
When Jesus handed back to the attendant the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and sat down, all eyes in the synagogue fell on him. They all expected to hear something profound from his lips. And he said simply. “This day this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” From my experience of preaching, I find it difficult to dive right into the lesson of scripture. I am not a scripture scholar. I usually know not much more than my listeners about the sacred writer, the historical setting of the book, or the images in the specific passage. Instead, I tend to ramble on about a great many things beyond the lessons of scripture, meandering through my experiences of family, my travels, and my extensive research on Google and Wikipedia. Then slowly and painstakingly, I will attempt to pull things together. Sometimes, even I am amazed. Sometimes, it’s like having left-over parts after assembling furniture from Ikea. So I apologize ahead of time if I happen to leave you with random ideas that might not fit anywhere. With three readings each Sunday, plus the responsorial psalm, the Holy Spirit might use a lot of images to send us home with something good. I am amazed every time someone will thank me for saying something meaningful, and I can not recall saying it at all.
So Jesus tells his listeners essentially that if they were really paying attention, whatever they were hoping to hear about God and God’s wonderful works was already unfolding before their eyes. And then it hit them. He was telling them something about himself, something only God can possibly bring about, but he was making that claim in God’s name. Now that had to take a great deal of courage to say. There had to be some synagogue officials, scribes, and teachers of the law present, people with more academic training than this carpenter turned preacher. Never mind that he was performing signs and healing the sick, and drawing huge crowds whenever he appeared in public. Now he was home. Now he was on their turf. Those who thought they were so much smarter easily got defensive. “And who does this pompous bag of hot air think he is?” Those who were already enamored of him simply scarfed up anything and everything he said. “He’s so smart. I love everything about him!” But they could all have reflected later on what he said, and perhaps gain something for their own spiritual lives.
In our day and age we have the luxury of hindsight. We know now what Jesus meant to say, that he, the man from Nazareth, came to fulfill all that the prophets had said of the Anointed of the Lord, the one sent by God “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.” As Christians convinced beyond doubt of the inspired truth of the New Testament, we are confident it’s all true. Jesus Christ is the Anointed of God, the Chosen One. He saved us through his gracious and willing offering of self on the wood of the cross bringing about our reconciliation with God and the forgiveness of our sins, also making us co-heirs with himself of the eternal inheritance that is rightfully his as the only-begotten Son of the Eternal Father. It all makes sense, at least to us Christian believers.
But Jesus is still speaking to us today, and his words ring true once more even as we hear it proclaimed. If we listen again, especially along with that passage from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians about how we are members of the one body of Christ, and therefore members of one another, perhaps we might take away something more, something much more challenging to our modern-day sensibilities. We are familiar with the image of the body that St. Paul uses. But he tells us we are integrally linked one to another as members of the body of Christ and of one another. It is very different from the sense, for instance, of a business corporation, where profit is the ultimate good. So if the number of non-productive members is dragging profits down, there’s no question. We let them go. Not so with the members of the body of Christ who are members of our own selves. And if this passage is fulfilled in our hearing, there are profound implications about how we are to regard and treat one another. Where are the weak and vulnerable members of the body of Christ? And how do we care for them?
When I first went to World Youth Day, Pope John Paul II was at the height of his popularity. He spoke often of Jesus Christ inviting us to a personal encounter with him. It was a precursor of Pope Francis’ “Joy of the Gospel,” where our encounter with Jesus strengthens us to proclaim good news with great joy. World Youth Day tried to show the world there was profound joy in authentic Christian witness. But it took a while for me to figure it out. When I volunteered to help with confessions at World Youth Day, I realized I could proclaim to young people the joy of encountering Jesus intimately and profoundly without ever leaving home. There it was—the Gospel unfolding right before me, just like Jesus said. Sometimes figuring it out might take a little while longer.
Rolo B Castillo © 2016