“The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor.”
During a performance, when an actor speaks directly to the audience, it is called “Breaking the Fourth Wall.” The saying comes from the experience of being in a theater, where the stage is surrounded by three walls. But there is also an invisible fourth wall which the audience is looking through to see the action. If the actor talks directly to the audience, he is ignoring or breaking that invisible fourth wall.
That is what Jesus was doing in the synagogue that morning in Nazareth. That is what Jesus is doing this morning as we gather to celebrate the Chrism Mass. He is “Breaking the Fourth Wall” because He is speaking directly to us. We are the poor to whom he is sent to bring the good news: the news that God is merciful.
When we hear this passage, we usually assume that Jesus was speaking simply about those who are materially poor. But Scripture scholars tell us that the term “the poor” means much more. “The poor” are all those who are aware of their sins and who are anxious to seek the forgiveness of God.
Jesus expands on that fundamental idea in the Beatitudes, when He exclaims: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” Here too, Jesus is not speaking about being underprivileged, but about a conscious choice on our parts to empty ourselves of worldly allurements and unnecessary possessions that lock God out of our lives. Then, empty of false Gods, we may seek the presence of the Holy Spirit who comes near to us and demonstrates God’s love and mercy.
The opposite of the poor are the arrogant. Those locked in the darkness of sin. Riches fill their minds with pride and self-complacency. Within that airless atmosphere, the Gospel is not needed. By contrast, however, the poor feel their need for a source of consolation that the world cannot give.
That Jesus preached to the poor was one sign He used to prove that he was from God. The Pharisees and Sadducees despised the poor; ancient philosophers ignored them, but Jesus embraced them and met with his greatest success among them. If the Gospel had been of men and women, it would have sought the rich and mighty. Instead it pours contempt on all human greatness and seeks, in imitation of God himself, to do good to those whom the world overlooks or despises.
What Jesus was doing in the synagogue that morning in Nazareth and what He is doing this morning as we gather for the Chrism Mass is speaking directly to us. We are the poor to whom He has sent to bring the good news that even in our sinfulness, God is merciful.
Pope Francis captured the essence of God’s mercy in these words:
“Jesus’ attitude is striking: we do not hear the words of scorn, we do not hear words of condemnation, but only words of love, of mercy, which are an invitation to conversation. “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.” Ah! Brothers and Sisters, God’s face is the face of a merciful father who is always patient. Have you thought about God’s patience, the patience He has with each one of us? That is His mercy. He always has patience, patience with us, He understands us, He waits for us, He does not tire of forgiving us if we are able to return to Him with a contrite heart. â€˜Great is God’s mercy,’ says the Psalm.”
And what happens to us when God’s mercy washes over us? We are changed. If we accept the grace of Jesus Christ, He changes our hearts from those of sinners and makes us saints. Indeed, His love is so strong it can even change the hearts of Pharisees and Sadducees, the hearts of the arrogant, the self-satisfied and the proud.
Perhaps no individual in history has illustrated that as well as a man by the name of John Newton. Newton was a slave trader who carried human cargo from West Africa to England. But God saved him in the midst of a storm in the Atlantic when he thought he was doomed, opening his eyes to his lack of respect for the dignity of every human life. Understanding for the first time the mercy of God, Newton let go of his pride and drew in a poverty of spirit. He became a preacher and a great hymn writer in England.
One hymn which he wrote, which I have long enjoyed, is a description of his own experience. He puts it this way:
In evil, long I took delight,
Unawed by shame or fear,
â€˜Til a new object met my sight,
And stopped my wild career.
I saw One hanging on a tree,
In agony and blood,
Who fixed His languid eyes on me,
As near His cross I stood.
Sure, never to my latest breath
Shall I forget that look.
It seemed to charge me with His death,
Though not a word He spoke.
A second look He gave, which said,
“I freely all forgive,
My blood was for thy ransom paid,
I died that thou may live.
And live he did! Never the same man, totally changed from his sinful past, Newton spent the remainder of his life working to abolish slavery.
The best-known of John Newton’s hymns is probably the most popular hymn of all time, “Amazing Grace.” It reminds us that God’s mercy can make even the driest land into a garden and can restore life to even the driest bones.
God is waiting to show us His mercy and do nothing less than change our lives. He is waiting to liberate us from our captivity to materialism. He is waiting to open our blind eyes to the needs of immigrants, refugees and Christians who are facing genocide in the Middle East. He is waiting set free those among us, especially the young, who want to strike a mark for good. He is waiting to proclaim this year as a year of His favor, a year when justice and peace will flourish like the warmth of spring.
Come, my brothers and sisters in Christ. Come and receive the Lord’s mercy. After Communion, I will commission 22 priests who have offered to be Missionaries of Mercy for our diocese. They will be empowered to grant immediate forgiveness of the most serious sins. Likewise, they will be available to speak and preach on mercy throughout our diocese.
They will have a unique role to play during this Year of Mercy, but we also have a mission before us. The Lord is inviting us to search deep within ourselves, to throw off whatever has held us back from Christ, to break the fourth wall and speak directly to ourselves, our families, our parishes, our neighbors and our co-workers. He is inviting us to speak of mercy and peace.
With the confidence that comes from the strength of the Holy Eucharist, may the words of Our Lord in the synagogue ring true throughout our diocese:
“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled even in your hearing.”
Original Blog Used with permission can be found here.