Can you imagine how the prisoners of the Concentration Camps felt when the allied forces liberated them, and their freedom and dignity were given back to them? Our first reading today is a description of refugees who had been deported to Babylon (present-day Iraq), returning to Jerusalem 500 years before the birth of Christ.
The people of Israel had turned away from God, and because of their infidelity, their nation was destroyed their Temple was torn down the walls of Jerusalem lay in ruins and the people were either killed or marched off into slavery in Babylon where they were displaced from their homeland for 55 years.
Upon their return to their homeland, they found their Temple destroyed and their homes and city lying in ruin: their spirit was broken, and they were devastated when they saw what little was left of their past. Nehemiah – a laymen – who had been appointed Governor of Juda, was given the task of rebuilding Jerusalem and restoring the traditions of Judaism; but he could never restore their human hearts. They were broken people who felt discouraged and abandoned by God. They had lost their spirit and their faith; it seemed that nothing was left.
As today’s reading from the Old Testament begins, Ezra – a priest found a copy of the text of the Torah. High on a wooden platform outside the “Water Gate”, Ezra gave a dramatic reading of the Torah – the Old Testament books of the Law. The people were reminded of their history, and they remembered their infidelity to God. The response from the men, women and children gathered to hear Ezra was deep shame. They began to weep, and great sadness came over them because they recognized their failures and their infidelity to God. Ezra told the people that they should no longer weep, but rather rejoice because God loves them, and He brought them home; GOD WAS WITH THEM! Their identity was restored, and their Covenant with God was renewed.
As Saint Luke begins his Gospel, Jesus was beginning His public Ministry. Immediately after his Baptism in the Jordan River, He entered the Synagogue, went to the ark, and took the scroll of the prophets. He began to read a passage of Isaiah which announced the coming of the Messiah and after He read the passage, He took his seat as an honored guests and announced that the prophecy He had just read was now being fulfilled in Him: I am the one sent to bring glad tidings to the poor. I am the one to proclaim freedom to captives. I am the one to restore sight to the blind. I am the One who has come to proclaim a new message. I am the expected One, the anointed of the Lord God. I am the One you have been waiting for!
Jesus came as the Messiah – the One sent into the world by the Father. He came because He cared about us. He came to cure our ills and to share our sufferings. Original Sin had broken our relationship with God the Father, and the results of sin were fear and doubt, suffering and uncertainty.
Mankind was in a mess. The trouble was not so much that: There was something wrong with the world – something wrong with “the system”. There was something wrong with mankind. We needed to be cured from within. Jesus did not come to put things right in the world, He came to put “us” right!
The prophecy of Isaiah, quoted by Jesus in today’s Gospel describes perfectly what He came to do. He came to people who were: poor, captive, blind and downtrodden.
And we are all these things, because: we are all poor – we cannot save ourselves – we need God’s love and mercy. We are all captives – our lives are controlled by money, prestige, possessions, addictions, destructive relationships, and power. We are all prisoners to false values, and Jesus wants to set us free. We are all blind – we are blinded by our fears, our prejudice, our pride, and our passions.
The Good News for us today is that none of this has changed. He still comes to us with the power and authority of God – because He is God! He brings into our midst the very life of God. And even though His teachings are regarded as foolish by the culture we live in, He comes into our midst – in this church – in this Eucharist: to open our eyes to free us from all our doubts and fears, to raise us up to live and experience God’s great love for us.
The time is now for us to focus our eyes, our minds and our hearts on Him. He alone can give us what we so earnestly long for.