Politicians try so hard to get the attention, support and vote of the people by making lofty promises during their electioneering campaigns. In fact, most of the big developmental plans and strategies are compiled in what is conventionally called MANIFESTO (from the latin manifestus which means something obvious or made public). A manifesto is essentially a public declaration of what an individual or group intends to achieve within a given period of time and how the person or group intends to achieve the things in question. Often times, most people end up achieving practically nothing from their manifestos.
Today, our Lord Jesus Christ emerges from the desert, where he fasted for forty days and forty nights, armed with a very rare manifesto. One that has all the salutary elements needed for a renewed life. A manifesto that is far above all known manifestos from the Communist manifesto through the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto to the Republican Platform. He made the declaration of his manifesto in a synagogue at Nazareth where he was brought up.
Our Lord Jesus Christ could be likened to a newly ordained priest visiting to his hometown to celebrate his First Holy Mass. In retrospect, we remember that he left home as the son of Joseph; the carpenter but now he is coming home as the Son of God; the messiah. He left home as a carpenter of woods but now he arrives as a carpenter of souls. He left home alone and came back with a lot of followers. This sudden change could have been amazing to his townspeople and entering the Synagogue on the Sabbath day they did not hesitate to give him the scroll when he came to read. May be they wanted to see him stutter while reading since he never attended any of their rabbinical schools.
Our Lord Jesus Christ mounted the pulpit, very much like Ezra did in the First Reading, and opening a portion from prophecy of Isaiah (61:1-2) he read the oracle which says:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, he has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
The first phenomenon we need to identify here is the moving power of God’s spirit on our Lord Jesus Christ. Specifically he is moved by the Spirit of God to declare his manifesto. Before we get into doing anything we must be moved by something. Most politicians in our day and age are moved by the thirst for power in declaring their manifestos, most business men and women are moved by profit in showcasing their merchandise and so on. But our Lord Jesus Christ was moved by the Holy Spirit. It is important to know what moves us at every point in our lives.
Significantly, all the messianic actions came through the power of God’s Spirit. The same Holy Spirit that has been in action from the time Mary got the news that she would be the mother of the Saviour (Luke 1:35) and the time she visited Elizabeth (Luke 1:41), continued to manifest not only at the baptism of the Lord and the time he entered into the desert to pray but also upon his coming to Nazareth to inaugurate his public ministry.
We see in the passage our Lord’s apt messianic action plan or manifesto:
- To announce the good news to the poor: The poor here refers to those who are in dire need of divine sustenance, those who are deficient of divine connection. The poor here refers to those whose spirits are yearning for God. Jesus Christ would say that they are blessed who are poor in spirit (Matt 5:3). We are fundamentally poor without God no matter how materially rich we appear.
- To proclaim release to captives: Reflective of the Babylonian captivity, the captives are those who have been taken away from their homeland. The captives here refer to those living outside divine coverage, those who have been snatched away from God by sin. Here we have a mental picture of those who made up the assembly that Ezra addressed in the first reading. Most of us are in various forms of captivity especially spiritual captivity. This happens when we pay attention to everything apart from God. The same Jesus Christ is ready to set you free today.
- Recovery of sight to the blind: Blindness is a great challenge physically. There is also another sense wherein someone can be considered to be blind spiritually. This is more of the sense our Lord was referring to in his manifesto. Like the assembly in the First Reading today, they people were suffering from spiritual blindness and the words of the law helped to open their spiritual sight to see clearly and thus appreciate God. Often we are blind to certain important things in our lives. We are blind to charity, forgiveness, mercy and love. We need to align with our Lord for our inner eyes to see again.
- To set at liberty those who are oppressed: Oppression is one of the misfortunes of being in captivity. Oppressive situations result when we fall into the oppressive hands. The exilic experience of the people of Israel describes this situation very well. Hence with the liberating power of Christ the oppression and oppressors would become be finally annihilated.
- To announce the acceptable year of the Lord: In a sense this refers to the Jubilee year which also announces freedom for salves and debtors (Leviticus 25). With this announcement, our Lord Jesus Christ makes it clear that he would grant freedom to all the salves (of sin) and all those in debt (to God). The coming of Christ becomes then a special jubilee, a favourable time, the acceptable year of the Lord for the liberation of humanity. As our Lord brought about our liberation generally there is need for some of us to liberate those whom we are keeping in chains in one way or the other.
Having taken considerable time and space to examine the salvific manifesto of our Lord Jesus Christ, it will be fitting to look into our own manifesto. Put in a more declarative way: “what plans do we have for God and how do we intend to carry them out?” The manifesto of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is God plans for us should challenge us to make reasonable responses. This is more important for us as we are still welcoming the New Year.
Following the manifesto of our Lord Jesus Christ, we should allow the Holy Spirit to move us not mundane things. We should desire God above all things like the Assembly that earnestly listened to the word of God from morning till evening. We should raise our hands to God to save us like the captives, oppressed and the blind.
Do not allow this day to pass by without constructing and declaring your own manifesto to God. Have an awesomely blessed Sunday and a rewarding great week ahead!