Human wisdom differs from divine wisdom. Theo-logic defies human logic. This is most evident in God’s relation to power. While all-powerful (“omnipotent” is the relevant word), God exercises supreme power by becoming powerless. To make this more concrete, consider the Incarnation of God’s Son.
God did not become incarnate as Caesar in Rome, as the Emperor of Persia, or even as part of the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt. God became incarnate as a marginal person among a conquered, oppressed, and marginal people. Even as a Jew, Jesus was not born into the high priestly family, or even into the priestly caste. Jesus was a member of the tribe of Judah, not the priestly tribe of Levi. As the passion narratives make clear, he was from a small village in backwards Galilee. Perhaps the local equivalent would be Panguitch.
Nothing demonstrates the power of powerless better than the cross. One cannot articulate the fathomless mystery of the cross using words. This is Paul’s message in our first reading. As in the famous passage from his Second Letter to the Corinthians,1 Paul here insists that he bears apostolic witness to Christ through his weakness. It is not in spite of but precisely through his inadequacy that he goes about the work God gave him. This is how God’s power is manifest.
The same dynamic is at work in today’s Gospel. Of all the passages from the TaNaK the inspired author of Luke could’ve chosen, he placed the passages from Isaiah we just heard on the lips of Jesus.2 Any decently catechized Jew of the late-Second Temple period (the era in which Jesus lived) or the immediate post-Temple period (the time this Gospel was written) would’ve recognized this as a Messianic prophecy.
This prophecy tells of the works the Messiah, the Christ, would do. It tells how the Messiah ushers in God’s reign, that is, how he will bring God’s saving power to bear on the world. The congregation understood what Jesus said. This is what led them to react with murderous anger. It is the not unbelieving pagans who grow enraged, but observant Jews.
In our day, Christians who seek to carry out the Messianic mission, who are not in the thrall of ideology, often experience similar anger from fellow Christians when they reach out to and advocate for the weak, the poor, and the imprisoned. When they stand-up for the inherent dignity of those on the margins: people whose countries are devastated by war, immigrants and refugees, the unborn, the elderly, the severely ill, the disabled, those on death row, racial minorities, as well as homosexual and transgender people.
As Pope Francis consistently insists, reaching out to the margins is what it means to evangelize. It is our failure to grasp this that leads to our puzzlement as to why too often what passes for evangelization fails. Let’s face it, it’s easier to engage in “apologetics” than it is to serve those in need.
Hear again: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor…to proclaim liberty to captives”…help the blind see…to free the oppressed.3 Like Saint Paul, our mission is the Messiah’s mission. It’s what participating in this Eucharist empowers us for and commits us to.
1 2 Corinthians 12:9-11.↩
2 Isaiah 61:1-2; 58:6.↩
3 Luke 4:18.↩