One of the greatest shortcomings of the human race, is that we have a very short attention span when it comes to extraordinary events: whether it be something wonderful or something tragic; our society’s attention generally to specific events or needs is somewhat fleeting.
Three years ago this month, Haiti experienced a massive earthquake with a death toll of over 200,000 people. Within days it went from the top story in most news casts, dropping down in ‘priority’ behind the economy, politics and celebrity news. It is all but forgotten on the main world stage again.
But the troubles and struggles and grief and tragedy in that poor little country have been continuing for generations, and will continue for generations without the ongoing help and support of a caring world community.
There are dozens of examples of under-developed and developing countries all over the world, where this is the case; that the struggles and poverty; the conflicts and starvation; the complete neglect and abuse of the poor have been going on for years; and only when an extraordinary event occurs on a massive scale, does the entire world community sit up and take notice and offer to help. The poverty in Africa, Asia, and Central America continues; persecutions of Christians are still occurring in parts of Africa and India and Pakistan; the children of North Korea are still hungry; suffering and want on a massive scale has become ‘ordinary’ in our world.
The extraordinary becomes ordinary, and loses our attention: but this is nothing new or modern. This trend goes back to the earliest periods of human history: we have an example from the period almost 500 years before Jesus was born, to the time of our first reading from the book of Nehemiah:
The Jewish people have returned from the exile in Babylon; returned to rebuild Jerusalem. Once the walls are rebuilt they gather to hear the Word of God.
Prior to the exile in Babylon, the children of Israel had God’s Word, God’s Law…it was a gift to them, given by God through Moses and the prophets…but over time, it became ‘taken for granted’. Iit became ‘ordinary’ and eventually became ignored.
Yet after the disaster of the conquering of Israel and destruction of their country – their enslavement in Babylon – their release and return to their homeland generations later: God’s Word is again ‘Extraordinary’. We hear, from daybreak to midday it is read – proclaimed to them.
If we read the complete passage in the book of Nehemiah it shows the people’s reactions to hearing the Word of God proclaimed: they stand in respect – they bow in reverence – the lie prostrate on the ground in adoration – they weep for joy, listening for hours on end.
And yet, as history shows, over time in their lives the Word would become something ordinary again. This ‘ordinariness’ of the Word to the nation becomes evident as later prophets try to bring Israel back to the heart of the Word of God: a Law of ‘mercy and compassion’; a call which seems to fall on deaf ears, right up to the time of Jesus: and this brings us to today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke.
Jesus teaches in the synagogues around the region – the gospel of Luke says, ‘he was praised by everyone”; His teaching inspired people – His teaching impressed them. He was extraordinary to these other synagogues in the region. But when He returns to his home town and goes to the synagogue ‘as was his custom’ – to his local community, His presence is something ordinary: He regularly and continually practices his faith and customs; and yet, the most extraordinary thing of all is often overlooked in this passage: Here we have God the Son, the Living WORD of God – the Word made flesh – proclaiming and teaching the Word. Who better to teach and explain God’s Word, than the living Word of God Himself?
In quoting this particular passage from Isaiah, Jesus is not just speaking to the people of the synagogue in Nazareth at a specific historical point in time; He is speaking to all people of all times; yes, he is identifying Himself to those hearing Him in the synagogue as the Messiah, prophesied by Isaiah; but He is saying much, much more.
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free”
This, Jesus is saying, is the hallmark of His Kingdom – of his Messiah-ship; the good news proclaimed to the poor, the good news of salvation, of mercy, of healing; and as we explore and read further in St. Luke’s gospel during this year, we will hear Jesus tell us that the hallmark of His true disciples – His followers – is that they will imitate the Master;
That this concern for the poor; this living out of a Gospel of mercy and compassion is not a ‘one off’ exercise reserved for ‘extraordinary’ events;
This, rather, is to be the constant attitude of all who identify themselves as Christians, as followers of Christ.
That our life and lifestyle is to be marked by our treatment of those around us all the time; the poor in our midst – yes of course those in places around the world or our own country devastated by disaster and poverty – but those much nearer too; the neglected in our own communities, our own workplaces; our own schools; our own parish or even our own homes and families.
It is not about a single social program; it is more about a social attitude; and this ‘attitude’ is motivated and marked by a love for God and a desire to be His instrument in everything we do and with everyone we meet.
Jesus came into the midst of those in the synagogue at Nazareth as one of their community; someone apparently very ordinary – and yet, here was the living proof of the most Extraordinary event in the history of the human race; the Incarnation of God – the entering of God into our humanity as one of us in the person of Jesus –
Have we become so used to this extraordinary truth that it is now ordinary to us? If so, there is something wonderful for us to consider.
Even if the Word has become ‘ordinary’ to us in the casual sense, it can indeed become Extraordinary to us again; it is simply a matter of being open to receive God’s Word –proclaimed for us at Mass – and opening our hearts and minds to The Spirit’s gift of understanding when we read Sacred Scripture; to understand where in our own lives we have been already been witnesses of The Word to others, and to build on that action with the help of God;
So that we too can once again become extraordinary for Christ.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!