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Reflections on the Sunday readings

Mission possible

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10  •  Psalm 19  •  1 Corinthians 12:12-31a  •  Luke 4:14-21

Here Jesus, like Ezra, reads scripture to tell the crowd who he is and where he stands. It would be a useful exercise, perhaps, for each of us to select a passage from scripture or another source that might become one's mission statement for daily life. Regardless of whether one can announce it from a pulpit, every person has daily opportunity to articulate and live out a purpose, in small and large ways. Getting clear about it can serve as an antidote to the overwhelming number of options and indecisiveness which may otherwise mark our days.

What Jesus announced as his mission is also instructive. Good news for the poor, recovery of sight for the blind, setting captives free: Jesus accomplished all of these, ministering to both the physical and the emotional dimensions of the human experience. In addition to those who experience poverty, many of us feel impoverished or fear impoverishment, having a mindset of a competitive struggle among humans over insufficient resources; Jesus taught good news of a kingdom of abundance for all. Many of us are blind to what is happening around us, preferring to blame others and absolve ourselves of responsibility; Jesus taught about repentance, beginning with one's self. Many of us are captives of our own peculiar narratives; Jesus taught that the truth would set us free. It takes courage to recognize one's own complicit participation in poverty, blindness, and captivity. It takes wisdom to see that when Jesus announced his mission, he was not talking about others, 'the truly needy,' as some might call it. He was talking about each and every one of us and our emotional, if not physical, brokenness. This brokenness may interfere with one's life mission; sometimes the detours of life allow the brokenness to be discovered and healing begun. One may experience an ever deepening awareness of oneself as absolutely dependent on God in accomplishing one's purpose in life.

To ponder: How would I describe my mission? How is it at work in my daily life? In my life today, where do I need to see more clearly?

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Looking for redemption: Isaiah 43:1-7 • Psalm 29 • Acts 8:14-17 • Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Today's readings begin with Isaiah's report of God's message: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. Wouldn't it be nice if the message were a little different? Something more like this: do not fear, for I have made sure that nothing will go wrong. Or, do not fear, for I have made sure that nothing will hurt you and those you love. However, life offers none of these assurances. As we all know, things can go wrong, very wrong. On top of that, it can hurt, and hurt more than one ever dreamed possible. Somehow, we are not to be afraid of these things, not because they won't happened, but because they will be redeemed.

Redemption can mean a lot of things. One trivial example: green stamps. Green stamps, an early version of frequent flier miles, were stamps received during the grocery store checkout which could be redeemed for what were, at the time, small but somewhat extravagant gift items. Enough trips to the grocery store, giving the time and energy and money it took to go with three kids in tow, and she would not only have enough food to feed her family, she would have sufficient stamps for something special. Along the way, all of us learned many life lessons, about making choices, waiting in line, and other challenges of ordinary life which grow a person towards adulthood. Maybe, in addition to the green stamp gifts, these developing character traits in the family eventually redeemed the drudgery of those days.

The analogy between green stamps and the plenteous redemption of our faith won't stretch far. But in a sense, all redemption is like this. People spend time and energy at a task, and in the end, whether it is successful or not, in spite of the mistakes made along the way, and often building on those mistakes somehow, an unexpected bonus occurs. In today's gospel reading, Jesus, obediently following his growing sense of purpose by embracing baptism, finds that with it comes a surprising heavenly blessing, complete with a dove!

Anyone who is figuring out what she wants to do with her life, and is doing the best she can with it, can count on difficulties and pain, but also on redemption. And there is more good news, for somehow, when a person or group of people is dedicated to a purpose greater than self, they are less subject to fear.  In focusing on purpose or task, a person can stop attending to fear and worry, while providing a place for redemption to abide.

To ponder: When have you seen something redeemed in your world?

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