3rd Sunday Year C

See Commentary on Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21 in Luke 1:1-4 & Luke 4:14-30

Homily 1 - 2007

Today’s Gospel has two separate introductions. In the first, Luke introduces his Gospel as a whole. In the second, he introduces, and sums up, Jesus’ public ministry; and he does it, by having Jesus say of himself, in the synagogue at Nazareth: (God’s Spirit)  has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.

That doesn’t sound very religious.

If a Muslim asked us what does being a Catholic mean, would we spontaneously answer: to be a brother or sister of Jesus, working with him to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free...?

What makes it religious is the “Why”. Why did Jesus do it? His answer was clear: The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, because he has anointed me. He has sent me ... Jesus brought good news to the poor, etc. because he believed he was sent by God to do it. Why did he accept that mission from God? Because the Spirit of the Lord had anointed him.

What does that mean – anointed by God’s Spirit? ... anointed... It means, sort of, “saturated” in a way that feels good, refreshes, and strengthens. Jesus felt himself saturated in, overwhelmed by, shot through with, the Spirit of God - and caught up into the throbbing heart of God, who is love.

At his Baptism, when he was anointed by the Spirit, Jesus knew himself as God’s beloved; he knew at the same time that God was love.  Caught up into the throbbing heart of God, who is love - with God, enlightened by God, empowered by God - he knew himself sent to reach out in love to the rest of humanity, equally loved by God.

Not to humanity, as an abstraction, but to the people he encountered. He was sent to love these people, most of whom were poor, downtrodden, and blind to their own dignity; as well as to those who weren’t poor or downtrodden, and were often the ones responsible for the others being poor and downtrodden. He didn’t love them abstractly, but he sought to humanise them practically, by his love, his care, his unmasking and challenging the structures that labelled,  discounted, and marginalised them.

Was that religious? Actually, many of the religious leaders thought that what he was doing was undermining religion. And, as we’ll see in next week’s Gospel, many of his own towns people were outraged by what he said and did, and tried to kill him. Emotions ran deep.

Following the prophet Micah, Jesus insisted on revealing what he believed was the heart of God: What I want is mercy, not sacrifice. Perhaps God is not very religious! or, perhaps people can get religion wrong.

You are already living that mission of Jesus in your various ways: Your work, for many, can be a service for others; Parents constantly giving further insight to your children, and, sometimes, vice versa; Voluntary work, making the community more person-friendly. Others shaping society according to the vision of Christ through membership of political parties, or influencing public opinion in more general ways. The parish has financially supported the Mesa Partida, of Fr Mick McKinnon,or the on-going work of human development and disaster relief through Caritas Australia. The task goes on – perhaps not spectacular, but real.

What does it mean to be a Catholic?

Homily 2 - 2010

Australia Day, just around the corner, put me in mind of the song: We are one, but we are many And from all the lands on earth we come. We share a dream and sing with one voice: I am, you are, we are Australian.

In some ways, we struggle to live up to what we sing: to share our dream. There are tensions in our society, with violence often simmering just below the surface. At the moment the media are focussed on the problems confronting Indian students; and we are far from resolving how white Australians stand together with the original inhabitants of our land. And, in addition to those flash points, there is the regular violence, particularly in the larger cities, and often released by alcohol, when night clubs and pubs close up for the night and their patrons come out onto the streets.

We share a dream and sing with one voice: I am, you are, we are Australian.

The song is not all that different from what Paul wrote in his letter to the Christian community in Corinth: Just as a human body, though it is made up of many parts, is a single unit because all these parts, though many, make one body, so it is with Christ. In the one Spirit we were all baptised, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as citizens, and one spirit was given to us all to drink… Now you together are Christ’s body, but each of you is a different part of it.

Even the Church struggles, at times, to live the ideal it preaches. There are tensions in the Church, too.

Respecting difference, otherness, standing in the other’s shoes and seeing things from the other side of the street … listening, rejoicing in the common ground, don’t come naturally. Original sin has made sure that we are all more at home with envy, competition, self-interest and rivalry. We don’t trust easily. We have to learn. We have to be formed. As children we need to be well fathered and well mothered. And as a society, those skills seem often to have been lost.

I don’t think we can love until we have been loved. And it helps if we know that the power that sustains the universe, the rhythm that pervades the whole of life, is, ultimately, love. God is love. We don’t know that instinctively. Instinctively, we fear God.

When elections draw near, politicians of all persuasions are tempted to appeal to our pervasive fears, our insecurity and inability to trust each other. They promise a tougher stance on crime.

That sounds the exact opposite to Jesus’ priorities. He saw himself called to proclaim liberty to captives, and to set prisoners free. But he saw that happening only as people, as individuals and as society, worked at changing themselves. He called for a radical re-orientation – not just more punitive laws, but conversion, change, transformation.

He saw himself anointed to announce what he called The Lord’s year of favour – a new era where people would see clearly the truth of God, the truth of God as reconciler, as forgiver, as lover – but radical, and consistent and unrestricted reconciliation, forgiveness and love. Jesus revealed a God who strains to empower and to motivate us to reconcile, to forgive and to love similarly.

To the extent that we change the whole basis of our interactions, then that truly will be good news for the poor and freedom to the downtrodden. It might even be peace and trust to everyone. If we want to … share a dream and sing with one voice: I am, you are, we are Australian, there is only one hope of succeeding and that is to follow the path of never-ending conversion.

 Homily 3 - 2013

Today's Gospel talks about the Lord's Year of Favour.  The Australian bishops have designated this year a Year of Grace.  Providentially, perhaps, it is also the Year of the Royal Commission.  Jesus spoke of the Lord's Year of Favour in terms of liberty and freedom, of new sight and of Good News to the destitute and oppressed.  Is his message relevant in any way to us as Church, as Catholics, in the year 2013?

I suppose that until the sexual abuse crisis scuttled our complacency, the Church in Australia had had clout.  We couldn't always get our own way – but we were seen, perhaps even feared, by some, as powerful, if not always persuasive.  We could sometimes influence legislation.

Nationally, we have a highly respected Education system and first-class schools – largely funded through close cooperation with Government.  We have a very effective social welfare outreach through Centrecare, St Vincent de Paul and other smaller but well-informed justice-oriented groups and organisations – some of them assisted by Government funding.  We run great hospitals, and the nation would be in trouble without them.  Generally we were seen – and certainly tried to be seen – as beacons of integrity.  We are also seen as wealthy - even if we don't feel that way in our parishes.

What kind of Church does Jesus want us to be? That's a hard one to answer; and a quick, arresting sound-bite would hardly do justice to the question.

With all our efficiency, our numbers at Church have been declining; priests and religious are ageing [with wonderful exceptions]; people aren't flocking to join us; and our ability to persuade the general population, and perhaps particularly youth, on matters that we see as morally important may be lessening.

That, however, is not the story on the world stage.  The Church is vitally alive and growing, paradoxically, in many parts of the world precisely where it is not wealthy, powerful and officially respected – indeed, where it is sometimes even persecuted.  The pattern is not consistent, but it at least raises questions.

I wonder how we shall come out at the other end of the Royal Commission.  Perhaps, power and wealth and prestige are not bad in themselves.  But they can be dangerous, tempting us to self-congratulation, complacency and blindness.

Jesus' call to conversion is constant.  The conversion he had in mind was not "try harder" (Pharisees are excellent at that), but "see differently".  How on earth do we do that? How on earth does the Church do that?

We may need others to show us – unexpected others, unlikely others, unwanted others.  We may need a prophet or two from within our own ranks.  But we need to be open; we need to be listening.

Jesus saw himself as sent to help the blind to see – to see what to him is obvious but what to us is not so   … to set people free – free from our familiar mind-sets and our comfortable, quiet satisfaction with ourselves, as individuals and as Church.  But we need to listen to Jesus, to be open to him challenging us and offering us the freedom that we don't realise we need.  We need to listen as individuals, but equally importantly we need to do it together, even in the parish.  St Paul pointed out clearly in tonight's Second Reading: Together we are the Body of Christ.

Might the Royal Commission help us? It could well do so.  But I don't think it will unless we are open to be challenged and surprised, and wanting to be converted.

At every Eucharist we remember the death of Jesus.  Conversion has its price.  We also celebrate his resurrection.  It is that that empowers us to be people of hope.


Homily 4 - 2016

With Australia Day just two days around the corner, I finally get the feeling that the year is really about to get under way. A few months ago, Pope Francis invited us to join him in celebrating a Year of Mercy. Half unconsciously, I have been putting off doing so until now. The decks have, at last, been cleared – so Here goes! The concluding part of today’s Gospel will provide a good launching pad.

I think I shall approach the Year of Mercy from two angles. Firstly, I want to depth my sense of God’s mercy towards me. And then I want to look closely at my response of mercy towards the world.

So, God's mercy towards me... It is one thing to accept God’s goodies. It is, in fact, easy to take them for granted, give a bit of a yawn, and not really appreciate them. The Gospel today mentioned good news for the poor, liberty to captives, new sight to the blind, relief for the downtrodden. Perhaps some are tempted to think, “That’s nice … for others. But it does nothing for me. I’m free. I can see. I am not exactly poor; and no one is oppressing me particularly. As long as I get to heaven, I’ll be happy; and I think I have a reasonable chance of that, certainly as good as anyone else’s. Why get excited about a Year of Mercy?”

But then I would ask them – “Would you like your experience of heaven to be like your experience of now, your present quality of experience frozen, as it were, forever? What would you want it to be like? And for it to be what you might prefer it to be, would you need to change, radically – and not so much what you do, but how you are, what you are?“

Perhaps we could all well ask, “Do I know God much? and does what I do know enthuse me? What does God’s mercy mean? Have I ever thought much about it? Have I ever had a noticeable experience of it, even if only briefly? Is mercy what I might like most about God?”

I know that God has been good to me. In this Year of Mercy, I want to explore further that mercy. I want to know God from inside, as it were.

As I said earlier, I also want to look at my own quality of mercy. Early in his time as Pope, Francis observed that we in our modern world seem to have lost our capacity to weep. We have lost the tendency, and the readiness, to know and to share the pain of those who suffer. For example, Asylum Seekers challenge us. They are people fleeing chaos and death. They are people traumatised, many of them having witnessed horrors we can only imagine. But they violate our borders. Their presence threatens to affect to some extent our standard of living or our familiar lifestyles. They are a nuisance. Yet they are there. And they are suffering people, whose hopes are being slowly drained from them.

On a different tack, I noticed my reaction a few weeks ago when the media publicized yet again another priest charged with the sexual abuse of children. It was something like, “Oh, not another one!” One more reason to be shamed! One more reason for good parishioners to feel further bewildered, confused, betrayed and angry! But I noticed that my spontaneous response was not towards the young boys abused and their suffering – children violated, their lives changed forever, their capacity to trust stripped from them. I feel quite distressed when I reflect on my reaction – the capacity to weep…

I think that Pope Francis would also like us to reflect more on the interface between Church dogmas and rules and the real lived experience of ordinary people struggling to observe them, or of people wanting to belong once more after having in fact failed to observe them in the past. Is there a place for mercy? But that is another question for another time.

Homily 5 - 2019

In today’s Gospel passage, Luke had finally wound up his introductory information about Jesus. He had used his stories of Jesus’ early life as a child to tell his readers who Jesus is, and to alert us to what to expect in the adult Jesus. He had shown us Jesus choosing deliberately to accept his solidarity with sin-scarred humanity by undergoing John’s baptism of repentance. He had told us of Jesus’ remarkable spiritual experience that he had while praying some time after his baptism, when he saw the heavens torn apart, as it were, the Spirit descending on him, and heard the voice of God clearly stating, “You are my son, my beloved; in you I delight.” Following the lead given in Mark’s Gospel, Luke had then, in his wonderfully graphic style, illustrated the radical temptations that Jesus experienced, perhaps early on, as he endeavoured to come to terms with the Father’s revelation to him, and certainly would undergo later as his mission moved inexorably towards crucifixion.

The stage had been set and Luke finally introduced his readers to Jesus’ public engagement with his countrymen one day, at Nazareth, in the synagogue. From the rich insights of the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus comments on one small passage taken from the prophecies of Isaiah.. “The spirit of the Lord … has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free and to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour”. Perhaps even more remarkably, he has Jesus declare to his listeners, “This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen”.

Is Jesus saying the same thing, “today”, to me and you, “This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen”? Is he offering me, you, today “new sight”, the chance to see things differently, to see everything differently? Is he telling me, you, that, if I open my eyes, I might really see this messed-up world of real people as a world “favoured”, even loved, by God? that I might even see traces of God’s presence in everything that happens, in everything that is real? Is Jesus still sent by the Spirit to tell me this: that despite the sin of the world, life is still “good news”? Is Jesus suggesting that he wants to set me “free”, today, to “proclaim liberty” to me – set me free from my fears, my paralysis, my blindness, my denials?

There is another way to make sense of today’s Gospel passage – not so much an alternative as an additional way. According to John’s Gospel, after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to the gathered disciples, whoever they were and however many they were, and said, “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you out”. He then breathed into them and said, “Receive the holy Spirit”. So the text of Isaiah that Jesus saw as applying to himself, we might hear addressed to us, to each of us, “The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me… He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour”.

Being a Catholic, then, is not so much question of sitting around passively and receiving sacraments, etc.. It is more question of knowing, from experience, the favour and graciousness of God – and moving into action from there: sharing God’s bias for the poor, not just barracking for them but standing with them and for them in their struggles for justice and greater equity; urging ourselves and others, particularly our politicians, to see beyond cultural blinkers and to be in touch really with life as it is; seeing justice, not as punishment, but reconciliation, where both victims and offenders are helped to grow, to grow up, to mature.

We have to change – or we die out. Listening carefully to Jesus could be a good start.


Homily 6 - 2022

Early in the week when I took a preliminary look at the readings for this weekend, my heart dropped. What might the First Reading, for example, have to say to us? It seemed so irrelevant. It dealt with the period after a small number of former Jewish exiles had returned to Palestine from two or three generations of captivity in Babylon. The great majority by far of exiles had chosen to remain in Babylon. The returning Jews had little idea what to expect. They had no king, no land of their own, no temple — just hopes.

Perhaps they thought a little like some of us might be thinking right now. The question in the minds of many of us at the moment is, “What will the Church be like after Covid?” Our other two readings today help us to address the question, if not to answer it.

Today’s Gospel showed Jesus in Nazareth, launching his public life and his message. He called for genuine change, as had numerous prophets before him, and he quoted a text that Isaiah had addressed precisely to those same exiles who had returned from Babylon and were re-settling in their former homeland:

The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,
for he has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to captives
and to the blind new sight,
to set the downtrodden free,
to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.

At the end of his life, Jesus commissioned the apostles to spread his message to all the nations. He sent them to change the ways people relate to each other, the ways that societies operate.

To bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, to give new sight to the blind, to set the downtrodden free — in our modern world, that should also be the field of politics, of political action, but of enlightened political action.

How we welcome refugees often fleeing for their lives, how we take care of the sick, how we share our nation’s wealth equitably, how we take care of our environment, how we ensure that every family can afford its own home — these are all practical faith issues, how we love our neighbour, even our enemy, in practice. They are also political issues, and far too important to leave simply to political parties and their policies.

I am inclined to think that, for many people, it is politics that over-rides faith responses, rather than faith determining our politics.

If we are to put into practice what Jesus commissioned us to do, we need to get to know Jesus well; like him we need to experience the spirit that anointed him and to appreciate ever more deeply the values on which his teachings rested.

It is the role of the Church as structure to form us for such responsibilities, to support us in our Christian lives, and to keep them anchored in the Gospel.

As St Paul insisted in today’s Second Reading, together we are Christ’s body; individually, each of us is a different part of it. We need each other; but each of us remains unique and individually gifted.