The readings for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time are about freedom.
From the first reading (Neh 8:2-4, 5-6, 8-10) we gather that, after returning from exile, for the first time, in a highly charged atmosphere of deep emotions, the Jews were free to celebrate God’s gift of the Torah (the Law).
In the second reading (1 Cor 12:12-30), St. Paul tells us how Jesus freed us from sin through his blood on the cross, and how he has poured his Holy Spirit of freedom into our hearts, so that we could be free to use our gifts, skills and talents for the good of the entire mystical Body of Christ, the Church.
Finally, the Gospel narrative (Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21) offers us the passage from Isaiah that spells out the purpose of Jesus’ mission among us: “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)
Jesus is sent to bring to the poor freedom from sadness, to captives freedom from imprisonment to the blind freedom from darkness, also release to prisoners and liberty from fear of God’s wrath to every single of his children.
Yet, freedom is like chastity, faithfulness, truthfulness and discipleship. Either we are free, or we are imprisoned. There is no such a state as being 80% chaste, partially faithful, and quasi truthful. If we keep 8 out of the 10 Commandments, we cannot claim to be authentic disciples of Jesus.
In any of those states, we would still be longing for freedom.
Although to a lesser degree, we would still be enslaved by pride or jealousy or anger or greed or lust or gluttony or sloth. We could still be bound by a poor image of ourselves or by excessive shyness, or by superstition, conformism, vengeance, unwillingness to forgive and so on.
The Jews, who enjoyed the freedom to worship Yahweh for the first time after so many years of exile, were not aware that they were still shackled by the thought of integrity of religious expression and concern for purity of race so far as to hating their former captors and, thus, all non-Jews.
Those who envy the gifts which the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of freedom, has given to others, are still enslaved by pride and jealousy; people who criticize the way of doing things of those anointed with a different ministry in the Church, have yet to accept their role and work gladly according to their calling from God.
Furthermore, the true freedom that Jesus offers us, in our hearing him today, can in no way be construed as anarchy.
It is given within the Church who has her laws and regulations. And it is given not for personal gain but for humble service.
Christ’s freedom is not permissiveness either; it is not license to do as we darn please but, rather, attentive solicitude and genuine concern for the good and wellbeing of the whole Body.
It is such a degree of freedom from self-absorption and selfishness that the wellbeing of others is placed ahead of our own and they are considered by us as superior to ourselves.
The freedom that Jesus offers us, today, in our hearing, is the establishment of all the right conditions, mostly in our hearts, which enable us to become the Christ- like person whom our God and Father calls us to be.
It is, therefore, total freedom by definition; it is full liberation which implies that, not only must we resist yielding to our passions and any shameful drive; but that we accept gladly to be called to submit to the heavier chains of self-immolation for the sake of others.
Obviously, at such a high level of freedom, we should not be concerned only about the basic necessities of life, but seek also nourishment for our minds and souls.
And we shall keep in mind that this world offers what, at first, seems a better type of freedom, but actually, strong shackles are slipped on our wrists while we are distracted by the lure of deceptive benefits.
Jesus speaks of duties, of vocation, of sacrifices, of service.
None of that is appealing! The world speaks of rights, of affirmation, of assertiveness and of vindication. It tells us that we are entitled to seek pleasures, fun, cheap thrills in any available way. That is what is alluring!
But we do not realize that we would be sold to other masters: consumerism, competitiveness, invasion of privacy, ever-changing fashions, violence, loss of dignity, restlessness and any other scary master that would make our life troubled and even, possibly, nightmarish…
Today, Jesus is led by the Spirit to be in our assembly to lead us closer to freedom… Hence, today can mark the beginning of a long process of liberation.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. (Matthew 11:28-29)
His yoke seems painfully heavy because the freedom offered us by Jesus is first of all freedom from ourselves. Whoa!
Yes! It is freedom from the dark and embarrassing side of our soul. Herewith Jesus refers to a dungeon that we thought never existed and which rules so much of our conscious life. He alone can pull us out of it.
That is why it is so crucial to appreciate his offer: “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)
We shall dismiss all hesitations: as any person touched by God’s grace knows, there could be a part of our soul that is determined to resist Jesus’ offer because it is easy to grow accustomed to shackles of our own choosing.
They are the chains we would find on our ankles and wrists once we settle for the fleeting happiness our slavery of choice provides: it could be pornography, alcohol, drugs, an infatuation, an alluring object, an obsession—anything.
Jesus’ offer of freedom is so total and so challenging that it cannot be for the fainthearted. It is given for free, but we must conquer it little by little, at a personal high cost that is renewed on every new day.
May the Bread of Life of the Eucharist rid us of all hesitation and strengthen our resolve to take this daring first step towards the total freedom offered by our Lord to us all.