3rd S. 2022: Free People

Today’s homily is for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 23, 2022, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of this homily can be viewed by clicking here soon, and can be heard by clicking here soon.

The Prophet Isaiah lived around 750 years before Jesus, and he witnessed the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, Samaria, taken captive by the Assyrians under Salmanaser. Isaiah saw free people taken away in chains, stripped of their dignity, of their voice, of their vision, but not of their hope. Isaiah told the people that God would send a redeemer. He promised that God would sent his holy one, anoint him, and that he would free God’s people. This is the quote we heard Jesus proclaim in the Synagogue in Nazareth. For 750 years Israel remained a conquered people–first under the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, and the Persians, Greeks, and finally the Romans. For 750 years God’s people were not free to follow God’s laws as was prescribed by Moses, had no voice in the public square, and could not worship their God as they wanted. 

Jesus stood before the assembly and said, “This is the day you’ve all been waiting for. Your savior is here!” And all throughout the Gospels Jesus does just what Isaiah said he would do–he cured the blind and healed people, liberating them from pain and returning them to the fold. He forgave their sins, brought them back to life, restored their dignity, and filled them with hope. This is what our Lord does–he heals and restores so that we are once again able to fulfill our mission. A person enslaved has no mission. A blind person is limited. A mute person has no voice. But a free person, fully alive, fully aware, fully healed, that is a person who can proclaim the kingdom and advance the kingdom of God. We have been freed to live out command one and only command…to love. We have been set free for this purpose–to love. And if we remain free, we can.

The evil one wants to rob us of our freedom, wants to cripple our ability to love, and he does that with his greatest tool–selfishness. Selfishness is the gross exaggeration of the desire for self preservation. It turns love inward. Selfishness says, “me first,” or “I don’t think there’s enough for you.” You see love is self-less. Love says, “Of course you can have some, I don’t have extra, but I’ve got some.” Love sacrifices and suffers for the good of others–something every parent knows very well. You might remember that “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. (1COR13:4-8)

When we are slaves of the devil we do not love. When we are slaves we are selfish and hurtful and unkind toward others. This is what Christian freedom means. Christian freedom is not the freedom to do whatever I want, it is the freedom to do what I ought. It is the freedom to follow our conscience, where we hear the voice of God that echoes in our depths; to do this and not that. But how many times a day do we ignore God’s voice? How many times are we enslaved by selfishness and greed? How many times do we look out for our interests, our family’s interests, or our country’s interests over and above the interest of others? God loves all people equally—all are his creation. To disregard or think ill of others is to dishonor the Creator. From the Catechism, “One cannot honor another person without blessing God his Creator. One cannot adore God without loving all people, His creatures.” (2069)

It’s no wonder that 1COR13 which speaks of love, comes immediate after our 2nd reading today 1COR12 that speaks for the value and dignity of every person. As different as we might be–every one of us is a valuable member of God’s body. “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.” How greatly have countries, communities, even churches and those who attend them forgotten such a basic principle. Jesus came to heal us, make us one whole body–and we keep severing limbs. We refuse to love. We say, because you do not look like me, act like me, think like me, vote like me, live like me, worship like me–you are of no value. We are free. We can choose to love.

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