“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the afflicted, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, release to the prisoners, To announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God; To comfort all who mourn. … ” (Is 61: 1-2).
This reading from Isaiah, a promise from God to the exiles of Israel, seems an excellent reflection for a new year. Our world certainly was afflicted, brokenhearted, captive, mourning or in need of vindication in 2017.
From racial and religious tensions in Africa, Myanmar, the Middle East and our own U.S. cities, to shootings in Las Vegas and Egypt to fire deaths in New York on Dec. 28, many mourn. From those denied refuge by oppressive regimes, poverty or homelessness here, many are afflicted. Because of hurricanes to wildfires, many are homeless. From the sick and elderly to victims of violence, to those fearing nuclear attack, many are wounded or held captive.
Jesus, whose ministry on earth we again explore in our weekday and Sunday liturgies starting Jan. 8, chose Isaiah’s prophecy to begin his public ministry. In Luke’s Gospel, we hear Jesus 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” (Lk 4: 18-19).
Then Jesus said, “Today, this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your presence.”
Some people have called this Jesus’ inaugural speech because he laid out his plan for what he intended to do on earth. At this time of year, we might also call it Jesus’ New Year message. And, as such, it can be used for our own New Year’s resolutions.
This year, resolve to bring good news to the afflicted: from those who are ill and elderly, to those who are oppressed by poverty, inequity, war, racism and hatred, to refugees and the homeless. Bringing the Good News can be as easy as checking on a sick friend or shoveling the driveway of an older neighbor. It can be as simple as writing a bigger check — even as IRS rules on deductions change — to a shelter, an animal rescue or Catholic Relief Services.
n Resolve to bind up the brokenhearted. Disappointments big and small wound people all the time. Tragedy strikes without warning. Our own words and actions are not always those of healing and love. Do what you can to reverse these injuries.
n Resolve to liberate captives. Many in prisons or jails might turn from old ways to new with just a big of help or encouragement. Sometimes unfair laws need to be changed. Others are held captive by prejudice or bias. Examine your own attitudes and actions.
n Resolve to release prisoners. Many prisons have walls, others have borders. There are many forms of isolation. How can you break down walls, cross borders or end just one person’s isolation? Forgive someone and set yourself free from anger or hurt.
n Resolve to comfort all who mourn. There are many forms of sorrow and loss. The holidays, and the cold of winter, make the pains of separation and loss even more sharp. You never know how a smile, a gentle word or a card or phone call can warm the chill.
“To announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God.”
Jesus’ public ministry lasted only a few years, but he changed the world forever. He healed people, broke barriers, reached out to lepers and outcasts, and even raised the dead.
And yet, as he said, “Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these …” (Jn 14:12).
This new year, resolve to glorify God through the Son, by doing — in your own way — exactly what Jesus did on earth.