I am sure that you will recognize these words: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” This particular quotation from the inaugural address of President John F. Kennedy earned him a spot on everyone’s list of memorable inaugural addresses. Very few such addresses in my lifetime are as memorable.
The words we hear in the Gospel today are put into the mouth of Jesus by the evangelist St. Luke. He is writing his Gospel for a good friend, Theophilus. The name means “one who loves God.” St. Luke wrote his Gospel for his friend in order to help him understand the mission of Jesus. In a sense, this passage from the Gospel of St. Luke is Jesus’ inaugural address. Jesus intends to “bring glad tidings to the poor, 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.” One would be hard pressed to come up with a more accurate statement of Jesus’ purpose.
If one reads the entire Gospel from beginning to end, it is possible to find instances of each of the proposed intentions. However, like President Kennedy, Jesus did not have a great deal of time to accomplish the tasks as they were set out by the Prophet Isaiah. Both of their lives were cut short by those who simply could not open their hearts to the proposed agenda.
However, it is not enough to simply remember what Jesus set out to do. St. Paul, writing to the Christian community of Corinth, using a well-worn metaphor, reminds us that we are the Body of Christ. If glad tidings are to be proclaimed to the poor, if captives are to be set free, if the blind are to be given their sight, if the acceptable year of justice is to be realized, then we are going to have to see that it happens. St. Paul reminds the Corinthians and us that “in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” The Holy Spirit has been sent into the world to enable us, through the use of our individual gifts, to continue the work that Jesus started.
St. Paul’s address is one of those two pronged arguments. He speaks to those who think they are more important than others and reminds them that the weaker parts of the body are very much needed. I am sure that I don’t have to elaborate which parts of the human body he is talking about, and I hasten to add that I certainly don’t intend to compare any of you to the weaker parts of the body! At the same time, St. Paul is also speaking to those in the community who think of themselves as the weak or unimportant parts of the Body of Christ and reminds them that each of us has received a specific gift that the community needs if it is to be whole. If they fail to use those gifts for the sake of the community, it suffers. When one part of the body suffers, we all suffer. Demeaning our gifts or claiming that we cannot use them is a denial of the power of the Holy Spirit both in your own person and in the community.
The readings today, Nehemiah, I Corinthians, and the incident in the Gospel all seem to take place in a liturgical setting. This is the time when the Holy Spirit is most powerful in our midst. When we gather in prayer to praise our God, to express sorrow for our sins, to intercede for one another, and to thank the Lord for all of the gifts with which we have been blessed, we not only give glory to God, we also continue to build up the community of God’s reign, to further the agenda that Jesus sets forth in the Gospel this morning. May the anointing of the Holy Spirit of which Jesus speaks this morning be active in our midst as we continue to bring the Good News of the Gospel to the poor, the oppressed, those who bear the cross of disability and to those who seek justice.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M.