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  • Father George

Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21

“Today the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” We have heard it proclaimed. But what is fulfilled, exactly? Well, let’s see: “to let the oppressed go free, to give sight to the blind, to bring release to the captives, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…” when all shall be forgiven and made whole. The Spirit of the Lord is upon Jesus and He has come, empowered by His Baptism and anointing in the Spirit, to do what He came to do – to save us. Salvation implies that a) we need to be saved and b) that need goes further than sinfulness but freedom from all that would make us slaves in this world. Remember that Luke begins today by saying, “Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee.” What is the strange power that Luke speaks of? How does Jesus use it? And what does it mean to us?

I was talking with Chloe the other day and she told me that her class had done a little exercise, asking the students: if you could have a super power, what would it be? The usual things were discussed (flying was my favorite) but included producing fire and ice, super strength, swimming under water without effort, etc. When we think of worldly power, though, what do we think about? The power to impose one’s will on the other: through military might, through physical prowess, financial strength, staggering intellect … these might produce power as we normally think of it. Luke claims that Jesus was filled with the power of the Spirit. Interesting.

But Jesus’ true power of the Spirit was who He truly was. He intended, by the power of His ultimate and sacrificial love, to empty himself of power and be crucified and, in Resurrection, He would take up that power again. But in the passage from death to life, through the truth of His life, death, and His word, Jesus set the prisoners of every kind free…this is the Year of the Lord’s favor, as is every year and time when we choose to embrace the power of Christ’s love. The love of God is a power that liberates and, more importantly, binds us together.

I am reading the second book by Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest who, for thirty years, has ministered amongst gangs in East Los Angeles. In his first book, an amazing story called Tattoos on the Heart, Fr. Boyle tells how he struggled to find a way to minister to young people in the barrios of E. LA. whose lives were torn apart by violence. He began a small enterprise called Homeboy, Inc. which began with a small t-shirt screening operation that hired gang members interested in a different kind of life, a second chance at life.

His new book is called Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship. The interesting title Barking to the Choir comes from a rather funny interchange between Fr. Boyle and one of the young men working at the Bakery business of Homeboy, Inc. The young man was derailing a bit and one of his supervisors, himself a former gang member, alerted Fr. Boyle (who the people he comes into contact with equally affectionately call “G”) that this young man was coming in late, not coming in at all, and that G needed to stage an intervention. So, Fr. Boyle called the young man in and started giving him “kletcha” – schooling him, taking him in hand – but the youngster dismissed all the fuss. “Don’t sweat it, bald-head (Fr. G, like me, is sparse of hair) – you’re barking to the choir.”

Fr. Boyle chose this title for his book because it says what the power of God in Christ is really after. The phrase combines “barking up the wrong tree” and “preaching to the choir” and tells us something. Fr. Boyle writes it best: “It calls for a rethinking of our status quo, no longer satisfied with the way the world is lulled into operating and yearning for a new vision. It is on the lookout for ways to confound and deconstruct.”

What the power of Jesus’ voice and mission has in store for us is a new way of seeing the world, when the powerless are valued just as much (not more but equally) as the powerful, in the eyes of society. Fr. Boyle has spent nearly his entire ordained life (30 of 34 years) ministering to people who are inherently marginalized, demonized (gang members and people who live in poor, crime-ridden barrios or neighborhoods), and dismissed as irrelevant in the story the world wants to tell. What Fr. Boyle has seen is that when the power of Christ’s love binds us together into what he calls kinship, brother and sisterhood, the true power of God’s intent is realized. Unity, togetherness, a sense of common bond and purpose, regardless of what language we speak, what neighborhood we hail from, how much money we have, or who our family is. Jesus had the power to save himself from being crucified – but he would stop at nothing to use His primary weapon – overwhelming love – to bring us to God and, ultimately, to one another.

Jesus’ power doesn’t seem to have any great benefit. He doesn’t do the things he does to garner attention; he heals out of sheer and pure love; it is who he is and the people he touches are made whole because that is what happens when we come into contact with pure love. But Jesus was not valued because of who he was focusing on. He was proclaiming and giving good news, hope, to the poor and offering grounding and life to the restless hearts of His and every generation. People in positions of POWER are generally not enamored with the prophet who is speaking words of Power – words of love – to the poor, ill, and disenfranchised because those people might get the idea that they are worth something and rise up and demand to be treated as equals. The power of Jesus’ love is a great equalizer of men and women – it is on offer to all but with a special emphasis on those who have been unloved, bereft of hope or friendship and shunted to the margins of every society, in every time through history.

Jesus is filled with power of the Holy Spirit which He offers to us, as an ongoing sign of His activity and love in the world. Jesus calls us to relationship and to pay very close attention to who he pays close attention to. Jesus proclaims freedom, the liberating power of the love of God’s only Son. Love is what powered Jesus’ life and ministry and he offered it to all, freely. Love is what binds people together and the absence of love makes it so much easier to try, in many ways, to keep each other in bondage. We must be willing to see a bigger vision of God if we are to tap into the power of Jesus Christ. Living life abundantly, filled with a renewed vision of God, has nothing to do with earthly power, money, or social-climbing. Living life channeling the power of Jesus is learning to look at the world differently, valuing what Jesus valued, and coming together in love and kinship. The power of Love is the only power that truly matters; the one that heals; the one that binds us together.

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