So many groups and organizations have what is called a mission statement as to what they are about and what is their purpose in being. It’s usually prominently displayed and is a useful tool for keeping a group focused and on track. The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 4 tells of Jesus returning to his home town of Nazareth and while in the local synagogue he picks out a piece from the prophet Isaiah and applies it to himself saying that this was what his life’s work was all about: That he had been anointed to: Bring good news to the poor; to proclaim liberty to captives; give the blind new sight and set the downtrodden free. This was his mission statement and by default also ours as his followers.
To really hear the Gospel as good news we first need to have a sense of our own poverty of spirit. By that I don’t mean material poverty because that can crush the human spirit, rather I mean having a sense of our need of God in our lives. In nearly every life there is some area of struggle or difficulty, some area where we need strength beyond ourselves, some reason why we have to go deeper in order to find answers. That point of need can also be a place of awakening and our point of contact with the divine. From one perspective we may see it as a big stumbling block while from a higher perspective it might be a stepping-stone. What may feel like a disappointment could in fact be a divine appointment. We don’t like to experience our weakness, failures or vulnerability but in the end of the day they could be a blessing in disguise; it may be where our souls get awakened.
When Jesus spoke of proclaiming liberty to captives we might think of those held bound against their will by someone else. Yet we can all be captives in our own way. It might be to anything or anyone that I am convinced in my heart that I couldn’t live without. It could be to the approval, opinions or expectations of others. Any form of craving or addiction can hold us captive and to liberate ourselves from such a grip can make the difference between having a life instead of just an existence. Probably the most endemic form of addiction that rarely gets mentioned as such is approval addiction where I continually look to others or someone else to feel good about myself. The fear of others disapproval then becomes a limiting factor in my life that prevents me from being who I really am and living my own life. There’s a story about this that sounds like a modern day parable. It’s called A Boy a Man and a Donkey……
A boy a man and a donkey were going to town. The boy rode on the donkey and the old man walked. As they went along they passed some people who remarked it was a shame, the old man was walking while the boy was riding.
The man and boy thought maybe the critics were right, so they changed positions. Then later they passed some people who remarked, ‘What a shame, he makes the little boy walk.’
So they then decided they’d both walk! Soon they passed some people who thought they were stupid to walk when they had a decent donkey to ride. So they both rode the donkey.
Now they passed some people who shamed them by saying ‘How awful to put such a load on a poor donkey.’
The boy and the man figured they were probable right. So they decided to carry the donkey. As they crossed over the bridge, they lost their grip on the animal and he fell into the river and drowned.
The moral of the story is quite obvious. If you try to please everyone and don’t be yourself You may as well kiss your ass goodbye!
To bring the blind new sight is a lot more than being about restoring sight to the blind. It’s an old saying that there are none so blind as those who think they can see. We often find ourselves involved in situations where we make matters worse by our interference simply by lacking insight as to what might be going on. It happens all the time when we hear one version of a conflict and assume it to be the whole truth. We then act accordingly and sour our friendship with the one we blame, oblivious to the fact that we are actually blinded by prejudice. If we had listened to the story from the other perspective it would have appeared quite different. Then we might begin to reflect that the truth is somewhere in between.
To set the downtrodden free doesn’t mean getting the boot off someone’s neck when their face is against the canvas. I may well be the one using the boot on myself. The one most likely to put me down is myself. Let’s face it; we can be quite self-critical and so hard on ourselves that we may not be giving ourselves a fair chance. The idea of being more kind, more compassionate and less judgmental towards myself can be quite foreign; yet it is a Gospel imperative; to love the neighbor as myself.
Jesus spoke then of proclaiming the Lord’s time of favour. Our Catholic background may have left us with a legacy of residual guilt where we never felt that God really approved of us but that He was always frowning. To think of God face smiling at us, favoring us, delighting in us, is the good news. If guilt and not feeling good enough are our reality then there will be no good news in us to share, whereas, if I have a sense of being loved and approved of then it will automatically overflow in my life.
Jesus spoke of the truths he mentioned being fulfilled as the people were listening. At what level are they being fulfilled in our lives and in our community at this time.