In his book, Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI asks a surprising question. He asks, “What did Jesus actually bring?” We still have wars, we still have famine, people still suffer, and people still get sick and die. He asks again, “What did Jesus actually bring?” Pope Benedict then answers his own question by saying, “Jesus brought us God. Jesus brings us God.” He is God made visible. He came to bring us life and to free us from whatever enslaves, so that we can be truly alive. He is so much more than a social worker. He’s not a nice guy who came to teach us a few useful things about living in harmony. He’s not a philosopher who gives us a theory about life. And He’s not a politician who promises to fulfill every wish we could ever have. He is the Savior, anointed “To proclaim liberty to captives and to let the oppressed go free.” In the Bible, anointing meant that you were chosen and given a special power by God. Jesus is the Savior who brings us to the Father. He does something that we can never do on our own.
In our Gospel Jesus reads from Isaiah 61:1-2, he reads, “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, and to let the oppressed go free.” This was considered a very hot text; it was a predictor of the Messiah. And so Jesus reads it, sits down, which is a sign of authority and he begins to preach basically saying, “I fulfill this passage. I am the Messiah, I am your Savior.”
As Christians we know that we can’t save ourselves. Sometimes we find ourselves wondering why we seem to commit the same sins over and over again. Sometime we say with St. Paul, “I don’t do the good I want to do, but I do the evil I don’t want to.” Caryll Houselander tells the following story in the Reed of God. “Through sin we forget what God looks like…I once saw an old, old woman shaking the photograph of her long dead husband, while tears, which seemed literally to hiss from her eyes, blistered it. ‘It won’t speak to me,’ she said, and I have forgotten his face.” Sin is like that. We forget what God looks like. But Jesus came to show us the way to the Father, to bring us into the light of his face. Bringing us in from the darkness, and doubt, and fear.
I have a Paul Harvey story and it’s mostly told during the Christmas season. It’s a story about how God meets us where we are, walking and point-ing us to where we need to go. It goes like this. There was a kind, decent, and mostly good man. Generous to his family, upright in his dealings with others. But he just didn’t believe all that Incarnation stuff that the churches proclaim at Christmastime. He just couldn’t swallow the Jesus Story, about God coming to earth as a man. “I’m not going with you to Church this Christmas Eve.” He told his wife, stating that he’d feel like a hypocrite. And so he stayed and his family went to Midnight Mass.
Shortly after the family drove away, snow began to fall. He watched the flurries getting heavier and then went back to his fireside chair to read his newspaper. Minutes later he was started by a thudding sound. Then another. Sort of a thump or a thud. At first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. But when he went to the front door to investigate he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They’d been caught in the storm and, in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large picture window. Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter, if he could direct the birds to it.
Quickly he put on a coat and tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on a light, but the birds didn’t come in. So he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted wide open door-way of the stable. But to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs, and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them. He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms. Instead, they scattered in every direction, except into the warm, lighted barn. And then, he realized that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature.
If only I could think of some way to let them know that they can trust me. That I am not trying to hurt them, but to help them. But how? Any move he made tended to frighten them, confuse them. They just would not follow. They would not be led because they feared him. If only I could be a bird, he thought, and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to the safe, warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand.
At that moment the church bells began to ring. He stood there listening to the bells, playing “Adeste Fidelis” and pealing the glad tiding of Christ-mas. And he sank to his knees in the snow.
Jesus said, “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, and to let the oppressed go free.” Maybe we’re captive right now, or oppressed. But there is hope; Jesus came to change that, to reconcile us with God the Father, to show us his Father’s mercy. He came that we might know personally the Father’s love. He came so that we could share in the Divine nature. Jesus came to show us the merciful face of the Father.
In the first centuries of Christianity monks had a prayer that they would pray throughout the day. It’s called the Jesus Prayer, and it’s a way for us to stay in contact with Jesus, to not forget God. It goes like this, “Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.” It’s just 12 words, but when repeated often, they will change the rhythm of our day. “Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
As we prepare to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, let’s speak these words from our heart, “Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.” And during the week when we’re in the car, waiting in line, or in an elevator we can say these words, “Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.” When we’re frustrated or filled with doubt, when we’re weighed down by our own sins or the sins of others we can pray these words, “Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
And he does.
Let us become great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley