Reading (1 John 4:19-5:4) Gospel (St. Luke 4:14-22)
Our Lord, in going to His hometown, tells the people that the prophecy given to us by the prophet Isaiah is fulfilled in their hearing, that is, that the Spirit of the Lord is upon Him and that He has been sent to bring glad tidings to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to the let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. That has not changed; He remains the fulfillment of that prophecy and it is fulfilled in our hearing in Jesus Christ. We are the ones that He came to set free. We are the captives who need liberty. We are the ones who are oppressed, who seek the freedom. That is precisely what He has come for: to free us from our own sinfulness, to free us from the bondage which is ours in sin, to take away the oppression that the devil has upon us so that we will be free to be able to worship God.
And like the people in Nazareth, we hear the words that He speaks and we are amazed at the wisdom, at the eloquence, and at the beauty. Yet like the people of Nazareth, we will ask sometimes the same question: “Who is this man? Don’t we know who his mother is? Don’t we know his father? He grew up right here with us.” They found Him too much for them. Even though they were amazed at Him, they refused to fully accept the message He preached because the message that He preached was not necessarily an easy one. It is very beautiful, indeed, and when anyone looks at it objectively they will marvel.
All we need to do is listen to what Saint John tells us, that we are commanded to love God and we love Him because He loves us. He sent His own Son into the world; that is what we heard yesterday. But then he tells us, “Whoever hates his brother does not love God.” Well, now we start to get a little bit worried because most of us probably carry some resentment in our hearts, some kind of hatred, some kind of difficulty with other people, and then we will immediately respond, “I still love God even though I don’t particularly like this individual.” And so we begin to back-paddle. We are told that anyone who believes in Jesus is begotten of the Father and that we are to love the children of God and that if we have been begotten of the Father that we conquer the world because we are members of His only-begotten Son. And he tells us the victory that conquers the world is our faith.
So if we have this faith in Jesus Christ, we have everything necessary to conquer the world. But then we sit back and say, “I can’t do it.” The real problem is most of us do not want to do it because it will require too much of us. It will require giving up too much. It will require persecution. It will require difficulties and denying the self. Yet we will still say, “I have faith in Jesus Christ,” just as we say, “I love God,” but we do not want to do everything we are commanded to do. We want to do what is comfortable but not what is demanding. Just like the people of Nazareth, we are amazed at His words but then we are going to find a way to rationalize our way around them because we do not really want them. They are beautiful if one looks at them objectively, but they are very demanding when one looks at them subjectively. And so, we sit back and we come up with rationalizations like “Well, that’s just the ideal. That would be the goal, but that’s not realistic. He doesn’t really expect that of us.” Saint John tells us it is a commandment. It was not just an ideal; it was not just some pie-in-the-sky sort of thing that the Lord is throwing out there; it is a commandment and we are required to follow it. That is what He is asking of us.
If there is anything we are holding in our hearts against another person, we need to forgive. It does not mean to say that we need to suggest what they did was okay; it means we need to let go of it. We need to be free of the shackles that are holding us bound because of our unforgiveness. We need to find the liberty that Christ came to give. If we find that we do not really want to grow in holiness, that we do not really want to do His Will, then we need to look back at that faith. If we proclaim faith in Jesus Christ, we need to put it into practice and that is to live it, to live what we profess, and that is to live His words, to do what He told us to do. That is the challenge that is laid out before us. Not simply at an arm’s distance to be amazed at His words and be attracted to them, but to accept them into ourselves and to put them into practice so that we will truly love God, so that we will love those who are around us, and that this faith of ours will indeed allow us to conquer the world – beginning by conquering our own selves, and then conquering everything around us. Not in any kind of selfish way or prideful way, but out of charity, out of true love for God and love for neighbor. That is what conquers the world.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.