What will you do to mark this a year acceptable to the Lord? A Reflection by Karen Bell

Photo by Joey Spadoni

I hope it doesn’t come across as a cop out, but my reflection today is really a series of questions. The first is: Can you imagine going to church and hearing a homily only nine words long? Impossible, right? Well, that’s exactly what Jesus does in today’s Gospel. After reading the passage from the Torah, with an expectant crowd attentively awaiting his teaching, he uttered nine simple words: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” Turns out the townsfolk weren’t exactly grateful for such a short homily because they tried to hurl him off a cliff, but that’s another story. His homily, despite its brevity, was both astonishing and scandalous to those in His hometown.

To process this moment in Jesus’ ministry, let’s step into the time machine of our imagination. Let’s go back to the Galilee of Biblical times. Jesus has been baptized in the Jordan by John and at that time He heard God’s voice speak to him from the heavens saying “on you my favor rests.”  Jesus then goes about the whole region, preaching in the synagogues to the great praise and amazement of all who hear Him.  He has created quite a buzz. And now the native son returns to Nazareth.  Picture yourself there in that moment. How large is the synagogue? How crowded is it and who is there?  What ambient noises do you hear? What does Jesus look like as he walks forward to take the scroll?  How does his voice sound as he reads aloud?  How do the people around you react to Him? 

Now, jump to the present.  You are seated in your parish church. Is it the Saturday Vigil or Sunday Mass? How many people are in the pews and which families do you recognize?  What music do you hear? In your mind’s eye, visualize your parish priest entering and the Mass beginning. There is a guest preacher, someone you actually know and think of as a grace and Spirit filled person.  Perhaps it’s someone who grew up in the parish who has made a name for themselves and has returned to visit for the weekend. They bow before the altar, approach the ambo and read, “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.” Then, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” The guest returns to their seat. What happens then?  How do you feel?  How do the parishioners around you react?

Jesus spoke with boldness and confidence that day in Nazareth.  He laid out his mission, the one foretold by Isaiah, for everyone in his hometown to hear. I think He was able to speak with such boldness and confidence because He knew He had God’s favor; God actually told Him so.  But doesn’t God say the same to each of us? Is not our Baptism a gift that keeps on giving, a constant renewal of grace that allows us to lay claim to this same calling to bring glad tidings to the poor, free the oppressed, and shed light in the darkness?  

Maybe that guest preacher in your parish church isn’t a total narcissistic crackpot after all!  Perhaps Jesus set an example for us to emulate throughout the centuries right up through January of 2022. Maybe each of us needs to feel the power of our baptism, to stand up and own up that with God, all things truly are possible, for every single one of us. I know people for whom this way of showing up in life is a reality – public figures like Bryan Stevenson and Fr. Greg Boyle, but also people I know personally, intimately. They are my role models.

Sometimes I doubt that I have a meaningful part to play. I don’t discern my particular path with any clarity. I get frustrated at the entropy I often feel and its accompanying lack of direction. Yet, as today’s second reading reminds me, we are many parts and all parts are necessary to complete the One Body of Christ.  My insignificance is inconsequential: Paul writes, “Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary.”  I am weak but necessary. You are necessary. God is waiting for each of us to harness the power of the gift He apportioned us for this very moment in our lives.  I hear Him inviting us with the question:  What will you do to mark this a year acceptable to the Lord? 

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