The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
Today is the feast of St. Luke the evangelist who wrote Sunday’s gospel (Luke 4:14-21) We don’t know much about Luke except through inferences from his gospel and the Book of Acts, which he also wrote, and references in Paul’s epistles. Let me give you some examples.
He was sensitive to the role of women in the life of Jesus. Women feature prominently in his gospel. The accounts he gives us of the annunciation, the visitation to Elizabeth, the birth, presentation in the temple, Simeon and Anna and Jesus’ sense of indepen-dence at the age of 12, could have only come from Mary or someone close to her.
He must have been well-educated. He told stories in fluent Greek and he quotes Old Testament scripture from the Greek Septuagint. He must have been educated and well-read in the Greek version of Hebrew scripture.
Luke seemed to appreciate Jesus as a storyteller. He includes more parables in his gospel than either Matthew or Mark. He featured Jesus’ ability to tell captivating and instructive stories. He must have gone around collecting them. The story of the post-resurrection appearance to the disciples on the road to Emmaus includes so many personal details… Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us ?” …that it seems could have only come from them.
We also appreciate that he experienced something so powerful about the life story of Jesus that he felt compelled to tell it.
As we learn from Paul’s letter to Timothy, in this morning’s first reading, (2 Tim. 4:5-13) (as well as from references in Colossians and Philemon) Luke travelled with Paul on his far-flung journeys preaching and teaching the good news of the person of Jesus.
He had the spirit on him he talked and wrote about the experience of God’s love in his and other’s lives.
As I was starting to prepare this sermon the gospel reminded me of one of my favorite stories about Desmond Tutu, from the time in the1990s when he served as the visiting Woodruff Professor at Emory University in Atlanta. He was taking a sabbatical to recover from cancer treatment and years of running the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa.
When he was invited to Emory, he was told that, when he felt up to it, he could teach any course he wanted.
People in the law faculty hoped that he would come there and teach about the legal structure and practice of the TRC or perhaps how it integrated with the judicial system. The department of sociology, wanted him, as the winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize to teach race relations and how reconciliation worked in such a deeply divided society.
Instead, the archbishop asked if he could teach students at the in their final year of divinity, at Chandler School of Theology who were destined for ordination. Of course, they said yes. It made sense. Here was an archbishop who had brought gospel principles to a deeply divided country to make it work in his Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Now, Desmond Tutu is a celebrity as well as a living saint. His smile and joy fill any room that he is in.
His class was assigned the largest lecture hall available, but even that was overflowing. Many people wanted to audit the course or just say hello as he made his way to the class.
When he finally got to the podium that had been set up everyone laughed, because…at five feet tall, Tutu couldn’t see over it, so he peeked around the side. Someone got him a step and he stood on that and began to speak, apologizing for being late, thanking everyone for the welcome, saying how glad he was to be there. He ended his remarks and asked if there were any questions.
One of the students asked, “Do you have a syllabus? What books are we to read, how many papers we have to write, when they are due and what is the grading scheme?”
Tutu laughed and said, “Oh yes… I’m sorry…There’s no syllabus, no books to read, no papers to submit, the grading scheme is pass/fail and there is only one requirement…And that is that you stand up here and tell me
and all your classmates of the experience of God’s love in your life.
Then he turned serious and said that if you can’t talk about the experience of God’s love in your life then you can’t be ordained a minister.
This, he said, is essential. The words didn’t matter, but they had to come from the heart. Then he added, brightly, that he was looking forward to hearing each student’s experience.
I thought of this story as I read the words from Isaiah that Jesus’ read in this morning’s gospel. Tutu wanted to hear if the Spirit of the Lord was upon them, to bring good news to the poor.
We are each called to an experience of the Spirit of the Lord upon us, because he has anointed us to bring good news to the poor. Or in Desmond Tutu’s words, we are each called to tell of the experience of God’s love in our life. It matters less what words we use than that the story comes from our heart.
It’s important to recognize how God’s love has shaped our lives and to tell that story.
“Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with the person of Jesus Christ who gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” (Pope Benedict XVI in his first encyclical “Deus Caritas Est”)
In last week’s epistle … written by Luke…about Saul’s conversion on the Road to Damascus, we heard that God called Ananias to go to Paul, heal him and baptize him. Then he brought Paul back to the community of Christians where Paul learned his first lessons about the love of God in their lives. That community told Paul stories of their experience of God’s love.
Paul reflected this communal experience of Christ’s love in his later writings, where he said, just as each of us has one body with many parts, and these parts do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We are all connected.
We share a lot with those early followers of Jesus. Christians today are now a minority within a larger non-believing society that faces many challenges…Covid-19, wars, inequality, racism, climate change, food insecurity, dictatorial politicians…for which it has no answers.
But we do! It is the shared love of God in our lives.
This is not naïve.
These are not technical or political solutions that Christ’s love offers but an orientation of care for one another and to share the planet that will be at the heart of any solution.
When Desmond Tutu proposed the details of the Truth and Reconciliation – confession and forgiveness – many thought he was naïve. Systemic racism in South Africa was more than a century old. Yet by and large he made it work. He created a loving alternative to judicial crime and punishment.
We can do the same.
In the words of Pope Francis “Technology is constantly advancing, but the growth of scientific and technological innovation needs to come with more equality and social inclusion.”
The Covid-19 pandemic momentarily revived the sense that we are a global community, where one person’s problems are the problems of all. We realized that no one is saved alone; we can only be saved together.
The environmental crises on the near horizon is another reminder of our interdependence. Ultimately, climate change will not spare any place or people. We will all experience the consequences.
Covid-19, the hurricanes, fires, and floods of the past year have exposed the vulnerability and false certainties
of living self-centred lives and “reveal once more the ineluctable and blessed awareness that we are part of one another, that we are brothers and sisters of one another” (Pope Francis in his encyclical FRATELLI TUTTI published October 3rd, 2020)
We know, too, that the worst ravages of these afflictions fall on the least fortunate among us, black, indigenous, people of colour, and the socially marginalized....the poor.
We have the technical know-how to address the issues what we lack is the wisdom, the ethical sense and the shared love of God and each other to see that we are more intimately bound to one another than we ever imagined.
We need The Spirit of the Lord upon us, to … bring good news to the poor.
We start by modelling our lives on Luke or the students in Desmond Tutu’s class and sharing our experience of God’s love from which all blessings can flow.
God bless you.