Can you go home again? Can you go away, grow, re-make who you are, and go home again?
The whispers from people who thought they knew you; the sideways glances as people try to figure out if they recognize you. Is it your hair? The cut? The color? It must be your glasses? You changed something, right? Don’t I know you?
Amidst the whispers and the fears, in Luke 4, Jesus waltzed right into his hometown synagogue, was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and launched right in:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
I imagine jaws dropping. Good news for who? The word is fulfilled as we hear it? Huh?
And this moment, Jesus comes to after forty days in the desert, forty days of temptation. Forty days that most surely challenged him and changed him. He went home again, but clearly he wasn’t the son of Joseph that they used to know.
All to proclaim good news to the poor.
I have come home again, in many ways. I returned to my hometown, who I once was hopefully is now just a shadow of who I might become. And, I wonder if I have succumbed to temptation in my sojourn. This I wonder because the Christ of this passage, the Christ of jubilee and generosity, the Christ of enough for everyone, this Christ feels distinct from the Christ I follow.
I have aimed to be faithful. In times when hope was scarce, I cultivated an intentional relationship with the Christ of new life, the Risen One, the Light of the World whose sufferings allowed him to identify with our own, who scars were not erased by new life, but were present in his “victory.” This is a Christ who last year challenged me to understand and experience church differently, to take risks in my leadership, to imagine possibility where the world imagined none. I stand by this as an authentic and timely expression of the God of love that I sought to draw nearer to.
But now, I look around and am tempted to settle. To continue to rely on the Christ that once challenged me to grow so that I no longer have to grow. I am tempted to bend that Christ to my own image, my own desires, my own vision, to justify my vision for the world, rather than God’s.
Good news for the poor.
I am confronted with the Christ who is not mine. The Christ who calls me out of complacency, who challenges me to bring good news to the poor, to live with a different paradigm for economic justice than our culture offers. The Christ who tells the rich young man to sell all his things, who tells a story where all the workers were paid the same despite not working the same hours, whose parables seem to encourage financial risk rather than safety. It is that Christ who blooms in front of the abandoned building down the block, who rounds up the neighborhood kids for tutoring, who offers a fan in the summer heat or shelter from the winter cold, who fills hungry bellies, and offers dignified work with reasonable wages. It is that Christ who shakes up the systems that cause this suffering.
Can I hear that Christ coming alive from the ink and the paper? Can I follow that Christ too, recognizing that my experience of the One Who Brings New Life may also be the One who Offers Economic Hope to the Poor? What will be required of me? What will I have to let go of?
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights considers the right to work and the right to an adequate standard of living as central to the cause of human dignity. And even in our highly developed and affluent society, we do not consider these are rights guaranteed to every person. In fact, we categorize and label people (like those who have committed felonies) to keep them from work, from certain standards of living.
I must continue to resist the temptation to tame Christ into a force that makes me comfortable. I must continue to reflect on the image of Christ actively present in my life, looking at the words I wish I could ignore, seeking ways to integrate those words into my life. I struggle to make choices in where I live, how I might educate my child, how I spend my money, when to engage in my neighborhood in ways that reflect the Christ who Brings Good News to the Poor. My prayer is that I continue to struggle and grow.
Why me Lord? Right in the middle of a strange, mixed up world. And with this nagging awareness within me that you want me to do something, say something or be something that will make a difference. It may not change the course of history, but it may change the course of some life. And I am obligated to respond to your call. Why me, Lord? I don’t know why. I only know unrest, the divine discontent, the eagerness on one hand to charge off in service for you, and the agony on the other of not knowing what direction. Why me, Lord? And what would you have me do?
Prayer by Jo Carr and Imogene Sorley,
printed in Soul Weaving: A Gathering of Women’s Prayers.
Abby King-Kaiser is our resident Protestant here in the CFJ, who helps all these Catholics identify and find Bible verses. As the Assistant Director of Ecumenical and Multifaith Ministry, she spends long nights at Xavier helping students in their faith formation. Her late night hours, while draining for her are much appreciated by the Xavier community.