3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Anointed by the Spirit

I suppose we would find it hard to imagine being in the presence of Jesus and not recognizing him. It's hard to imagine that He would be just another face in the crowd, and that there would be nothing remarkable or exceptional that would make him stand out from all the rest.

But it wasn't that way - people misunderstood, they missed the point. Many may have walked by Jesus without feeling anything out of the ordinary ...and they needed a special sign in order to recognize Him. And the same is true today.

On a purely human level, Jesus lived most of his life in obscurity, emerged as a prophetic figure for several years, and was eventually crucified. After his death layer upon layer of interpretation and understanding was put on his life and his ministry so that it has become extremely difficult to get to know the flesh and blood reality of Jesus.

Like the prophets who lived before him, Jesus doubtless became aware of the gap between the ideals of a religious vision - a nation that would create a just society according to the norms of respect enshrined in the Mosaic Law - and the social reality of his time. He no doubt felt a "call" within himself to stand up and be counted, to do something about this gap, to be a prophetic figure.

But what was Jesus thinking? Who, in his right mind, knowing what happened to prophets all throughout the history of Israel, would ever put his hand up and volunteer to be a prophet?

The Gospel tells us that Jesus returned to Galilee to begin His mission "in the power of the Spirit." It's the anointing with the Spirit that enables Jesus to begin His mission. At the synagogue, Jesus read the words of 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." And then he tells them: "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing."

It is interesting that Jesus announces his ministry by reading this particular passage. "Today these words are fulfilled in your hearing ."  Today - and from now on - God's ancient promises are fulfilled.

Jesus understood his ministry in terms of setting people free. We really need to understand this. His life and death were about changing people's minds and hearts. His work of salvation directly addressed the issues of fear, ignorance, and darkness which clouded the religious thinking and images of the people.

The issue for Jesus is: stand up and be counted; let the Spirit of God have its way with you - completely. Give all your mind and heart and soul to the "call" within you. This is conversion in its most radical form. This is conversion where it hurts most.

At the end of his life, there was no glory for Jesus, no resounding success. His dream was not realized. People simply did not convert. The powerful had their way with him. He broke down and cried over Jerusalem. In the garden the night before he died, he felt alone and helpless. Whipped, spat on, and mocked, he went to a shameful death abandoned by his friends and feeling abandoned even by God. And yet, this man reached deep into himself and refused to despair, refused to give up hope, refused to budge from his conviction that God is ultimately good, gracious, and to be trusted absolutely.

For most of us, the call to follow Jesus has not been very dramatic. There was no special moment, as in today's Gospel, when He revealed Himself to us and asked us to be His disciples. Most of us were baptized, and raised as Catholics in our younger days. We went through the activities of prayer and church and sacraments. We learned the basics of Christian doctrine. And probably after some years of questioning and wandering, we reached a point in adult life when we began to take our Catholic faith seriously - when our minds and hearts were radically changed by the touch of the Spirit.

For us the process of conversion means taking to heart the words of Isaiah - words that Jesus applied to Himself. We, too, are called to bring good news to the poor. We have been sent to proclaim liberty and freedom to those suffering oppression of any and every kind; we have been chosen to bring sight to the blind and to proclaim God's favor to all.

We, too, have been anointed by the Spirit: to show all humanity, by our word and example, that its journey in time is really a journey toward Christ - a mysterious, spiritual journey which begins, continues and ends in Him.