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January 27, 2019
[Mystical Rose Oratory at Chaminade University (Hawaii World Youth Day Observance)]
Jesus had been there many times. For almost thirty years he went to the synagogue of Nazareth to listen to the word of God. Others before him unrolled various scrolls of Scripture and read from them, giving their interpretations of the Word of God and their teachings based upon them. But Jesus had also been to many other places. He saw many poor and homeless people, and he reflected on the bad news they often received: “You can’t sleep here.” “You are scaring people.” “You should get a job.” “If only you didn’t drink so much you would not be in this situation.” And he observed that this kind of bad news did nothing but bury them deeper and deeper into their poverty.
He saw many people who were captives: the men who always treated women with lust rather than respect; the women who were beaten by their husbands but were so dependent upon them that they could not escape the violence; the weak people who were bullied by others; the people who only felt themselves important if they could tell others the juicy secrets they discovered about their neighbors; the hard worker who was severely exploited by a greedy employer. And he noticed that many of these people never imagined they could escape from their captivity.
As Jesus walked around Nazareth and its environs, he saw many who were blind: those who never seemed to notice that others were suffering; those who simply could not see that their selfish behavior was hurting others; those who were so committed to looking holy that they could not see their own sins but only the sins of others. He noted that the eyes of their hearts grew darker day by day.
When visiting his friends and relatives or his business clients, Jesus noticed that many were locked up within themselves so tightly that they might as well have been behind bars of iron; that others were imprisoned by labels that people put upon them that seemed inescapable, such as the town drunk, the loose woman, or the man always on the prowl for sexual adventures. He observed that there were many who had thrown away the keys, thinking that this was just the way they would always be.
Into all this came Jesus, who had had the law and the prophets read to him so many times in this synagogue of Nazareth that he was literally soaked in the Word. Like the people had been in the time of Ezra when he read the Scriptures to them day and night, bringing them to tears, Jesus, too, understood that the Word was more than sounds with meanings, but that he was himself the Word that had become flesh. and that now he was anointed to bring glad tidings to the poor, to announce liberty to captives, sight to the blind, and release to prisoners. He understood that he could no longer accept the prisons people had built for themselves or others, that he could not simply be a bystander. He knew he had been anointed – drenched – by the Spirit, and that would enable him to bring that Scripture passage into fulfillment right then and there.
In the same way, all of you have been anointed with the same Spirit. You have heard the same Word. You have witnessed so many miracles wrought by Jesus already. And so the Spirit has given you each special graces and talents so that you can notice the sufferings, the injustices, and the sins within and around you, and in the name of Jesus, whose intimate friends you have become, allow those words of promise to become a reality. I have already seen how some of you use music to set free hearts that are captive. I was with some of you on World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, when you were leery about the homeless sleeping in the doorways, but after being soaked in the Word and the wonders of those days, you boxed up your leftovers from dinner and lovingly shared them with those same people you had feared only days before. I have seen some of you sacrifice yourselves day in and day out to teach the young about the love of Jesus, even when they did not always appreciate the gift you were giving them. I have seen some of you struggle with the things of the world that can imprison us, and be set free by the mercy of Jesus. Each with your own gifts, each with your own limitations, the Lord uses you now to continue the mission he began in that synagogue at Nazareth, his home town.
And so, you will gather for countless Masses and prayer services and for numerous faith-sharing. Some of them will touch you and move you to tears, as the Word moved so many people in the time of Ezra. Some will be gently and silently planted in your hearts, not to bear fruit until they are ripe years or decades from now. Yet because you have opened yourselves to the Living Word that is Jesus Christ risen from the dead, you can join him in bringing that Word to fruition today in the lives of those you meet. Through you – and all of us – Jesus continues to bring good news to the poor, liberty to captives, sight to the blind. He can continue to enter very concretely into this world that is so dark, pessimistic, and godless and bring it the time of favor it secretly longs for and that God wants to be this time in which we live.