Over the last 48 hours, the news has been filled with stories about this incredible storm, the Blizzard of ’16. At times, it can sound like the same thing over and over.
Snow falls, roads close, stores are emptied…snow falls, roads close, stores are emptied…repeat.
When I was first working at CBS News, a wise old editor had some advice on how to write a news story. “It’s simple,” he said. “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell it, then tell them what you told them.”
You’re seeing that right now.
And, believe it or not, you’re also seeing it in this Sunday’s Gospel. I sometimes think the writers of the Gospels would have made great news writers. Indeed, you could consider the Gospels almost like news bulletins—dispatches from the front lines that continually bring us not just news, but the Good News. After all, that’s what “Gospel” means: Good News.
Today’s reading is a case in point, introducing us to the Gospel According to St. Luke, which we’ll be hearing during this year’s lectionary cycle. This excerpt gives us the very beginning of the Gospel, then jumps ahead a few chapters, to Christ’s return to Nazareth after his time in the desert.
Jesus gets right down to business. He stands in the synagogue and reads a well-known passage from Isaiah, describing his mission on earth:
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
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.
Jesus is “telling them what he’s going to tell them”—in a sense, this is what we would call Christ’s “mission statement.” In journalism terms, this is his “lede.” He spends the next three years of his life fulfilling it, carrying it out, “telling it” again and again through teaching and miracles, through his parables and his Passion.
And St. Luke makes all this come vividly alive. His gospel is notable for its humanity and sense of charity. In his telling of Christ’s life, we meet the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan. We encounter Christ’s teachings about compassion toward the poor, the sick, the outcast, the neglected. And it is here where Jesus assures his followers: “Seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened.”
Fittingly, for this Year of Mercy all year long we will be hearing from what could be called the Gospel of Mercy.
It’s also a Gospel steeped in Jewish history.
At the end of Luke’s Gospel, just before his Ascension, Jesus declares very simply:
“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.”
At the conclusion, it comes full circle. As that old news editor would put it, he “tells them what he told them.” He sums it up.
But Luke’s Gospel, like all scripture, isn’t journalism. It isn’t history or biography.
It is the Gospel—literally Good News.
The message Jesus Christ proclaimed two thousand years ago in a synagogue in Nazareth echoes here and now, in Forest Hills.
We are all the poor, the captive, the blind, the oppressed.
As we hear these words of Jesus, it’s worth asking ourselves:
How am I poor? What am I lacking in my faith, in my life as a Catholic Christian?
What is holding me captive or oppressed?
What am I too blind to see?
To all of us Christ says, as he said that day in Nazareth: “I am bringing glad tidings.” And it’s not happening next week or next year. It’s happening now.
“Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
And it continues to be fulfilled. Christ’s Good News, his glad tidings, didn’t begin and end in Galilee. Again and again—as we will see in Luke’s gospel over the coming months—he shows us the way to love, teaches us how to pray, offers us lessons in how to give and how to forgive.
To all of us here, he offers his grace again and again through God’s Word, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, in the sacraments—most poignantly, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. There, in that sacrament, those who are poor of heart or depleted in spirit are enriched beyond measure; sight is restored to those blinded by sin; freedom is granted to those imprisoned by the past; shackles are unlocked from any who feel oppressed by the burdens of guilt, or shame, or regret.
This is what Pope Francis has spoken of so often when he speaks of the Year of Mercy.
This is, fittingly, a ‘year acceptable to the Lord,’ a Jubilee Year. What a beautiful opportunity to start an ongoing conversation with God, to draw closer to him and his font of mercy.
What a great time to make ourselves open to miracles.
You may feel the walls fall away. You may see light break through the darkness. You may feel richer than you ever imagined.
I have experienced it in my own life—and I remain profoundly grateful.
Remember this: Christ is God’s gift to a poor, imprisoned, blinded world—and he is literally the gift that keeps on giving. It is there in his teachings, and in his sacraments—especially the one we are about to receive here, the Eucharist.
All of this is the story St. Luke will be sharing with us over the next months—but it isn’t just any story. It’s bigger than any news bulletin, more powerful than any blizzard—and it will last long after the last inch of ice has melted.
It is the greatest story every told.