In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is foremost a prophet. God had a message for human society, and Jesus was its herald. Luke relates many of the same miracles one finds in Matthew and Mark, but the most memorable parts of his Gospel are actually not the actions of Jesus but his words. Some of these are words of teaching, like the great parables of the good Samaritan or the prodigal son. Some of these are words of challenge, like those he spoke to Zacchaeus and Martha, the sister of Mary.
‘That you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.’ (Lk 1:4)
How do you proclaim God’s promises with boldness?
How does your own faith inspire the faith of others?
In Luke’s mind, Jesus did not build God’s kingdom so much as point out its arrival. The kingdom was already in place, surrounding and penetrating every person, but people had somehow missed it. Anxieties, ego-driven passions, the “normalness” of everyday experience all distracted attention from the quiet but inexorable divine action all around them. The kingdom of God that Jesus revealed was hidden in plain sight.
The essential component of Jesus’ messianic mission was to draw attention to this new reality. Luke found a foreshadowing of this in the prophecy of Isaiah, which Jesus quotes in this Sunday’s Gospel. Liberty for captives and healing for the broken in body and spirit were the distant goal; the first step was to proclaim that such things were even possible. For many, faith was a dying ember, inspiring only the faintest wisp of hope. Jesus recognized quickly that his first responsibility was to reignite that faith in the hearts of many. He did this by proclaiming a simple message: God was still at work and was still committed to the plans he had revealed centuries before.
Jesus proclaimed this message with boldness, and it led to the transformation of many. This boldness fascinated Luke, who identified it as key to the ministry of both Jesus and the Apostles. Speaking the good news with boldness did reignite the faith of many. Simply reminding people of God’s ancient promises aroused excitement and hope. In many of Luke’s miracle accounts, this burgeoning faith was the necessary prerequisite for the healing or deliverance that followed.
One should be cautious not to oversimplify. Alleviating poverty and restoring freedom require more than a mere change in perspective. Nonetheless, any solution does require a transformation of mind as a first step. These moments of conversion can be profoundly exciting, and this excitement can open a door for divine grace. Jesus’ prophetic boldness was the spark that kindled the healing and liberation Isaiah foretold.
The right word at the right moment can change a life. The right response to a devastating crisis can renew an entire world. If this Sunday’s Gospel reading offers any challenge to today’s disciples, it is to remember the power of bold speech. Although we may need new words to communicate the message, Jesus’ own experience shows us that God’s ancient promises have an enduring power to inspire faith and excite hope. Divine grace remains active, but it requires someone with a living faith to be fully effective. Inspiring that faith is the task of those who take up the mission of Christ. The simple reminder that God is at work can transform the lives of many.