Let’s review what happens just before the start of today’s Gospel. You may remember it from last Sunday. Father Jay said that this was Jesus’ Mission Statement. That thought has stuck with me all week. What is a Mission Statement?
Wikipedia tells us that “A mission statement is a statement of the purpose of a company, organization or person, its reason for existing. The mission statement should guide the actions of the organization, spell out its overall goal, provide a path, and guide decision-making.
A mission statement is a statement which is used as a way of communicating the purpose of the organization. Although most of the time it will remain the same for a long period of time, it is not uncommon for organizations to update their mission statement and generally happens when an organization evolves. Mission statements are normally short and simple statements which outline what the organization’s purpose is and are related to the specific sector an organization operates in.
Properly crafted mission statements serve as filters to separate what is important from what is not, and communicate a sense of intended direction to the entire organization.” Let’s listen to Jesus’ Mission Statement again. Jesus read from the scroll of 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.”
He rolled up the scroll, handed back to the attendant and sat down. Everyone was watching him to see what he would say or do. Jesus said “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Let us examine Jesus’ Mission Statement to see how it applies to our lives. The Mission Statement starts with “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” We must be willing to let the Spirit of the Lord come upon us, to change our lives and the lives of those we meet. The Spirit of the Lord called the prophets to speak for God to the people, to admonish them when they sinned and to direct them to path that would lead them back to the God who loves them and wants to protect and care for them.
Anointing is an act that empowers a special position or power on an individual or object. The first time the word anointing appears in the Bible is in the book of Genesis. Kings, Priests and Prophets were anointed with oil to serve the people and God. Jesus is all of these: King, Prophet and Priest. The word Messiah means Anointed One in Hebrew. Christ is derived from the word Greek for “anointee”. We too are anointed at our baptism and again at Confirmation with oil marking us with the seal of the Holy Spirit. This anointing helps us to understand our faith and live a life of service for God.
The religious leaders and the social elite considered poverty something to be avoided. Many of the ancients believed that poverty was caused by a person’s sin or the sin of their parents. If you were poor in ancient times, life was very harsh. Many became slaves if they were unable to pay their debt to person who loaned them money. A person could be a slave for six years and then in the seventh year, the slaves were set free. The poor only wanted relief from the oppressive burden of living.
Whenever the Israelites sinned, they were conquered and taken into captivity. Oppression and captivity by their enemies left the Israelites wanting liberty more than anything else. Eventually, they would repent and God would return them to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and serve him again.
Blindness was a big problem in ancient times. Blindness was considered to be caused by the sins of the parents. Jesus performed many miracles by healing people who were blind. Many children were blind as a result of poor hygiene or disease transmitted by flies. Today all newborns are given antiseptic eye drops to prevent blindness. In the poorer parts of the world where medicine is not available or customs prevent the mothers from taking precautionary measures, physical blindness is still an issue today.
Oppression by a conquering army or the social leaders was common. Life was difficult at best and in many cases almost impossible due to the oppression of captors or debtors.
The last phrase is “to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” The year acceptable to the Lord refers to the Jubilee Year that was decreed in the book of Leviticus. Every forty nine years, the books were wiped clean. If you could not pay your debts, you, and in some cases, your family, became slaves to the debt holder until the debt was paid off. In the Jubilee Year, those who were slaves returned to their families as free individuals. Those who pledged their land as collateral had their land returned to them if it was farmland. (This was not true for urban property.) The Jubilee prevented the permanent sale of farmland so the value of the land was determined by the number of harvests until the Jubilee Year when the ancestral land was returned to the family.
If we look at the original reading in Isaiah, it reads: “To announce a year of favor from the LORD.” The year of “Favor” was a time of renewal for everyone; the Gentiles as well as Israelites. It was a time of forgiveness. Jesus referred to the Jubilee years when he answered Peter’s question: “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.” Peter thought that he was being really generous by forgiving the other person seven times. But Jesus said that he must forgive seventy-seven times. This is an odd way of writing it but it really means seventy times seven or four hundred and ninety which is ten Jubilee years or would in essence is forever. In other words, we are to forgive a friend as many times as they ask us to forgive. We too must forgive as Jesus commanded us.
While we have talked about the physical aspects of these conditions, there is also a spiritual aspect for each one. We can be poor in spirit and captive to sin. We can be blind to God’s ways and teachings. Sin and despair can oppress us to the point that we wonder if there is any reason to live. Bitterness and revenge destroys us as well as the other person. In spite of all this gloom and sadness, there is hope. Jesus came to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord, a time to redeem us from our spiritual and physical chains that hold us captive.
Jesus came as the anointed one to free us from all the things that bind us, from all the weight of sin that oppresses and overcomes us, from all the bitterness and hatred for people who have wronged us. He came to free us from Satan, sin and even death. Jesus came to show us the way back to God the Father and our heavenly home to live with him forever.
Jesus’ Mission Statement is really a guide for all Christians. The goal for all Christians is to live as Jesus lived. Are we willing to accept it as our own? Are we willing to forgive as Jesus taught us? Are we willing to forgive as Jesus forgave us? Are we willing to live our lives as Jesus taught us? Will we serve those we meet in love to help the poor, the blind, the oppressed? Will others know that the scripture passage was fulfilled in their presence by the way we live our lives?