God’s Spirit of Power

God’s Spirit of Power

Third Sunday of the Year. Fr John Orme Mills preaches a homily for the third Sunday of the year.

Imagine what it was like to be in that synagogue in Nazareth.
Stories have circulated about this amazing local man who has been baptized by John the Baptist and then done all sorts of wonderful things, and preached with extraordinary power and wisdom. And at last he has come back to his home town. At last the people who have known him for years have a chance to see for themselves why everybody is talking about him.
Jesus reads from the prophet Isaiah the momentous words: ‘The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me.’ And then he goes on to say to the people crowded in that synagogue: ‘This passage of scripture has come true today, as you heard it being read.’ What does he mean by that? It would seem as if he is saying that these words of Isaiah apply to him, personally. That he is the Saviour whom the Israelites had been waiting for — waiting for so long. That he is the chosen one sent by God who would free them and lead them into a new kingdom, a holy kingdom — who would bring them close again to God. That he is the Messiah, in other words.
In at least some ways the problems a lot of people have today about God are not unlike the problems about God which many of the Jews of Jesus’ time had. Those Jews believed that for centuries the Spirit of God, which had fired the great prophets of old, had vanished. There were no more prophets in the land. The promises of a new and glorious Israel were not turning into realities. In fact, the opposite was the case: Israel was a beaten nation, and God was silent. Unlike in our own country, everybody believed that there was a God, but it was felt he was so remote that he was out of all human contact.
Mind you, people went on longing for the return of the Spirit. But a growing number of them came to think this would only happen at the end of time, at the end of everything. On the other hand, from its very start it’s been a basic claim of Christianity that the Spirit of God has come back already. The Bible says that this happened in the coming of Jesus, with his message that the reign of God was breaking into our world, that the new heaven and new earth were no longer just a dream, a fantasy. And this brings us back to the sermon with which we started our own sermon: the sermon which St Luke tells us Jesus preached in Nazareth’s synagogue about 1,970 years ago.
We do not need to know the rest of the story, which will be next week’s gospel reading, in order to ask ourselves the question: could Jesus’ hearers possibly have taken seriously the sort of things he was telling them? The fact that he had been a boy whom they had all known would have been no problem if he had just done comforting things — miracles, and so on. What was bound to upset some of them was that he insisted on talking to them about power, big power… maybe God’s power, but power all the same: power ‘to proclaim liberty to captives’ and ‘to set the downtrodden free’. It’s power, after all, which is the thing that can make even the best of us feel threatened.
If some of the people in that synagogue misunderstood Jesus, it’s excusable really. But we surely can’t be so easily excused. For it still hasn’t sunk into people’s heads that God’s power is just not like our idea of power at all. What Jesus showed the world, in his words but above all in his life, is that God’s power is the power of love, the power which looks like weakness — something so different that our minds alone can’t grasp it. It’s terribly important that we don’t overlook what God is doing in us just because it doesn’t fit in with our own ideas of how God should work in our lives.

Readings: Neh 8:2-6,9-10 | 1Cor 12:12-30 | Luke 1:1-4

fr. John Orme Mills O.P. was a former journalist who, after joining the Order, edited New Blackfriars and was at one time Assistant to the Master of the Order in Rome. He died on 6th December 2010. May he rest in peace.