It is Holy Thursday, and during the daytime we celebrate the Chrism Mass. Tonight we will celebrate the Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper. During this liturgy, churches around the entire globe will wait in prayerful vigil, with lights dimmed, all images covered and the congregation adopts a tone of respectful and somber silence.
The Church is remembering the end of Jesus’s public life as a teacher and healer and walking with Him as He accomplishes the work of salvation in His passion, death and resurrection.
Yet today’s Gospel takes us back to the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry. He has just emerged from the desert, filled by the power of the Holy Spirit and astonishing crowds with His words. As He stands on the podium in the synagogue to read from the book of Isiah (which we hear in the first reading), Jesus summarizes His entire ministry in a few short verses.
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.
In case His listeners miss the point, Jesus spells it out, ” Today this scripture is fulfilled among you.” It is quite telling that the scribes and pharisees become enraged at His proclamation.
They are enraged at the beginning of His ministry and even more so at the end of His public life. Indeed they are enraged enough to become the catalyst which propels the events which culminate in the crucifixion of Christ. Why? Why are they so upset, angry?
They are full of themselves as experts on God, so full of pride that they cannot humble themselves enough to recognize the presence of God in their midst. They secretly are intent on playing the role of God themselves by saving themselves with their knowledge and works. In fact, they do not think they need a saviour at all because they are pure in their own eyes.
As Jesus reminds us in the Gospels, only the sick need a physician, only a sinner needs a saviour. Only the humble person can even acknowledge his weakness, his sin, his need for salvation. Only the humble can open their eyes long enough to see reality and to ask for help, accept help, accept Divine intervention in their lives.
So the question that naturally arises on this day, on the eve of Christ’s death, is where do I stand? Do I stand among the righteous, pure, self-sufficient ones or do I stand with the poor in spirit, those oppressed in the face of their innate sinfulness? Do I need salvation and am I humble enough to ask for it?
If I can’t, Jesus died in vain, the power of his crucifixion is wasted on me and I will be unable to rejoice on Easter Sunday. I will not rise with Him into the fullness of new life, a life hidden in Christ. I pray that I might rejoice and repeat the words of today’s psalm, “For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord. “