The Law and the Precepts of the Lord
"The world will hear God's voice by hearing it echo in the lives of the faithful"
As the Liturgical Year journeys onward towards the Lenten Season in the afterglow of Christmas and the subsequent celebrations of the Holy Family, the Epiphany and of course the Baptism of the Lord, we take some time this Sunday to reflect on the Law of God. Oftentimes simply referred to as the Word, it's interesting to observe the Israelites, on the heels of their Babylonian captivity, and their reaction to Ezra in the Book of Nehemiah as he works his way down the scrolled word. Their joy quickly turned to weeping, perhaps in the face of such an awesome recitation of the spoken word, a common occurrence in what was a predominantly oral culture. Or maybe it was simply their fear of inadequacy given the stringent and demanding nature of the Law.
But the Book of Nehemiah delivers a message of redemption, one in which constantly reminds us of God's inexhaustible forgiveness. Themes of hope and restoration for a beleaguered flock resonate, and neither the magnitude of one's rebellion nor the length of time away are enough to deter God from joyfully welcoming us back to his family. Ezra reminds the Israelites of this as he tells the onlookers that they are "not to be saddened by this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength". They in turn went on and put their faith into practice, galvanized by Ezra's words of encouragement.
In his first Letter to the Corinthians, Paul rather literally reflects upon his own unique perspective of the Church serving as the "Body of Christ.” By pointing out for instance that the eye relies on the foot to deliver it to its destination while the foot counts on the eye to guide it there, he offers up a practical example of how a thriving parish community can exist among each other for the good of all, working in concert to insure a harmonious and vibrant church community.
We are not called by God to be the same. To the contrary, we must patiently seek out our destined role in the community in which we live so that we can contribute to the ongoing greater good. This can only be done through the careful honing and development of our self-awareness, ongoing prayer and perhaps of equal importance, we must rid ourselves of the notion that any one member is more critical than another. Inferiority and superiority complexes must be checked at the door.
In Luke's Gospel, Jesus seeks to proclaim his message to the Israelites, an appropriate companion passage to Nehemiah's earlier verse as He goes on to proclaim "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me 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."
There are so many great nuggets in this passage. Although there's a natural tendency to take this passage literally, it would appear as if Jesus in this case might be asking us to dig deeper and as always, to follow His example.
So in the spirit of this translation, could it be that bringing glad tidings to the poor could in fact refer to those poor in spirit or devoid of love as opposed to the financially impoverished? Could the proclamation of liberty to those captive be targeting those enslaved to any number of afflictions such as depression, addiction or vice? With regard to blindness, surely this could be a call out to those who are spiritually blind to the needs of their neighbors or God's unconditional love rather than those who simply cannot see in the optical sense. The shackles of oppression take many forms as well, and only through a return to God can we truly be set free.
This translation now presents the enlightened follower with a multitude of golden opportunities. Is there someone in your life who needs a spiritual boost? Is their faith meter running on empty? Are they lonely and in need of comfort, compassion or simply someone to buy them a cup of coffee and listen to them for a little while?
Tending to the physical needs of others is simply part of the equation, albeit a critical one. We must also seek to address the more complex and fragile needs of our brothers and sisters. It's not easy and time is always in short supply, but just as Paul shows us that we all bring unique and important gifts to the communities that God has painstakingly placed us in, we are all equipped with the ability to love our neighbor as ourselves and to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, mind and soul.
God expects that of us and He certainly wouldn't hold us accountable to it if we weren't blessed with the ability to carry it out. Opportunities oftentimes present themselves in unique forms. By eagerly seeking out those opportunities to comfort others, we in fact shall also find comfort.