Jesus Christ came to set the captives free from the prisons of fear, sin, and indifference so that we all can live free and authentic Christian lives. A few weeks ago, I went to an exhibit in New York City titled, “A People, A Face, A Newness in Everyday Rubble” about Christians in the Middle East. It featured the stories of persecuted Iraqi and Syrian Christians who fled their homes and are now living as refugees in various camps in Jordan.
I was moved by the pictures and videos which described the lives of these Christians who had their homes, jobs, and education stripped away from them because they refused to deny their faith. These refugees were not poor, but they were professors, doctors, nurses, and lawyers forced to live in sad living conditions inside of refugee camps with no work and little hope of returning home to their former life. My heart was moved by their stories because they were no longer anonymous faces, but persons with a history and a story — persons who have the same hopes and dreams that I do, persons with the same Catholic faith as me, but imprisoned by their circumstances.
I asked the tour guide at the exhibit, “What could I do to help?” Now I was expecting her to respond by telling me to donate some money, or to sign some petition or write letter to my congressman. Instead she answered my question with something profound and challenging, she said, “The best way you can help us is by living your faith authentically.”
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus goes to his hometown synagogue, opens a scroll, and reads from the prophet Isaiah, “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” (Luke 4:18-19). Then he sat down and said to those present in synagogue, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). Jesus entered his hometown of Nazareth to proclaim his mission statement, moreover, to challenge the people in his community to live their faith authentically empowered by the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit which we received at our baptism and were sealed with at our Confirmation. The same Holy Spirit which gives us the power to bring glad tidings to the poor and to the sets the captives free.
Each of us manifests this power in different ways based on the gifts and talents we are given by God. For some of us, this power manifests itself with the gift of languages, others with the gift of teaching or organization, and for others it is the gift of healing. All these gifts are meant to bring joy and build up the Body of Christ which includes those who may be imprisoned by addictions, who need a sober friend or an accountability partner. The Body of Christ includes those who may be imprisoned with an illness or disability, and need someone to spend some quality time with them in hospital or at their home. The Body of Christ includes our brothers and sisters who are persecuted because of their faith in Jesus Christ and need us to live our faith authentically.
I was transformed by that experience at the exhibit in New York City a few weeks ago because it set me free from a prison I was not even aware of: the prison of indifference. The tour guide set me free by opening my eyes to the reality that the Spirit of the Lord that was upon me, a spirit that could not only set free those who are being persecuted in the Middle East and Africa, but also bring mercy and joy those among me in my own community with the gifts God has given me to live my faith authentically. In this “year acceptable to the Lord” may the Spirit of Lord set all of us free, so that the mission of Jesus Christ might be fulfilled with our hearing today.