In the first reading and in the Gospel, we find two parallel gestures: the priest Esdras places the book of the law of God on high, opens it and proclaims it before all the people; Jesus, in the synagogue of Nazareth, opens the scroll of Holy Scripture and reads a passage from the prophet Isaiah in front of everyone. These are two scenes that communicate to us a fundamental reality: it is not us, with our words, who are at the center of the life of the holy people of God and of the journey of faith. In the center is God with his Word.
It all started with the Word that God addressed to us. In Christ, his eternal Word, the Father “chose us before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4). By his Word, he created the universe: “He spoke, and what he said came to be” (Ps 33, 9). From ancient times he has spoken to us through the prophets (Heb 1:1); finally, in the fullness of time (Gal 4:4), he sent us his own Word, the only Son. This is why, once the reading of Isaiah is finished, Jesus announces something incredible in the Gospel: “Today this passage of Scripture is fulfilled” (Lk 4:21). It has been fulfilled: the Word of God is no longer a promise, but it has come true. She became incarnate in Jesus. By the action of the Holy Spirit, she came to dwell among us and she wants to remain in us, to fulfill our expectations and heal our wounds.
Sisters and brothers, like the people in the synagogue in Nazareth, let’s keep our eyes fixed on Jesus (cf. v. 20) – they were looking at him, he was one of them: what’s new? What will the much-talked-about do? – and welcome his Word. Today let us meditate on two interrelated aspects: the Word reveals God and the Word leads us to man. It is at the center: it reveals God and leads us to man.
First, the Word reveals God. At the beginning of his mission, Jesus, commenting on this passage from the prophet Isaiah, announces a precise choice: he has come for the liberation of the poor and the oppressed (cf. v. 18). Thus, he reveals to us through the Scriptures the face of God as the One who takes care of our poverty and who has our destiny at heart. He is not a boss in heaven – this bad image of God, no, it’s not like that – but a Father who accompanies our steps. He is not a cold, detached and impassive observer, a “mathematical” God. He is the God-with-us, who is passionate about our life and gets involved to the point of crying our tears. He is not a neutral and indifferent god, but the Spirit burning with love for man, who defends us, advises us, takes a stand in our favour, gets involved and lets himself be affected by our pain. He is always there. Here is “the good news” (v. 18) that Jesus proclaims, to the astonishment of all: God is near and wants to take care of me, of you, of everyone. And that’s the character of God: closeness. It is thus defined; he says to the people, in Deuteronomy: “What people have their gods close to them, as I am close to you?” (cf. Dt 4, 7). The God who is close, with this compassionate and tender closeness, wants to relieve you of the burdens that crush you, he wants to warm the cold of your winters, he wants to light up your dark days, he wants to support your uncertain steps. And he does it with his Word, with which he speaks to you to revive hope in the ashes of your fears, to make you rediscover joy in the labyrinths of your sadness, to fill the bitterness of loneliness with hope. It takes you forward, but not in a labyrinth: it makes you walk the path, to find it more, each day.
Brothers and sisters, let us ask ourselves: do we carry in our hearts this liberating image of God, the near God, the compassionate God, the tender God? Or do we consider him a rigorous judge of our life, a rigid customs officer? Is our faith a bearer of hope and joy or – I wonder, between us – is it still tormented by fear, a fearful faith? What face of God do we announce in the Church? The Savior who liberates and heals or the fearsome God who crushes under guilt? To convert us to the true God, Jesus shows us where to start: with the Word. This, by telling us the story of God’s love for us, frees us from fears and preconceived ideas about him, which extinguish the joy of faith. The Word breaks down false idols, unmasks our projections, destroys too human representations of God and brings us back to his true face, to his mercy. The Word of God nourishes and renews faith: let us put it back at the center of prayer and spiritual life! In the center, the Word that reveals to us who God is, the Word that brings us closer to God.
And now the second aspect: the Word leads us to man. It leads us to God and it leads us to man. The very moment we discover that God is compassionate love, we overcome the temptation to lock ourselves into a sacred religiosity that is reduced to an external worship, which neither touches nor transforms life. It is idolatry. Hidden idolatry, polished idolatry, but it’s idolatry. The Word urges us to come out of ourselves to meet our brothers with the sole and gentle strength of God’s liberating love. In the synagogue of Nazareth, Jesus reveals it to us: He is sent to meet the poor – which we all are – to free them. He did not come to hand over a list of standards or to preside over a religious ceremony, but he took to the streets of the world to meet wounded humanity, to caress the faces hollowed out by suffering, to heal the broken hearts, to free us from the chains that imprison our soul. He thus reveals to us what worship is most pleasing to God: taking care of our neighbour. And we have to come back to that. When in the Church there are the temptations of rigidity, which is a perversion, and when we believe that to find God is to become more rigid, more rigid, with more norms, things that are right, things that are clear … It is not so. When we see proposals for rigidity, let’s say right away: it’s an idol, it’s not God. Our God is not like that.
Sisters and brothers, the Word of God transforms us – rigidity does not transform us, it hides us –; the Word of God transforms us by penetrating the soul like a sword (cf. Heb 4:12). For if on the one hand it consoles us by revealing the face of God to us, on the other it provokes us and shakes us by bringing us back to our contradictions. It puts us in crisis. It will not leave us in peace, if a world torn by injustice and by hunger bears the brunt of this tranquility, where the weakest always pay the high price. The weakest always pay. The Word puts our justifications in crisis, which always make what is wrong depend on another and on others. What pain we feel to see our brothers and sisters die at sea because they won’t let them disembark! And this, some do in the name of God. The Word of God invites us to come out, not to hide behind the complexity of the problems, behind the “there is nothing to be done”, “it is their problem”, “it is his problem” or the “what can I do about it?”, “let’s leave them there”. She urges us to act, to unite the worship of God and the care of man. Because Holy Scripture was not given to us to entertain us, to pamper us in an angelic spirituality, but to meet others and approach their wounds. I spoke of rigidity, of this modern Pelagianism, which is one of the temptations of the Church. And this other, in search of an angelic spirituality, is a bit like the other temptation of today: the Gnostic spiritual movements, Gnosticism, which offers you a Word of God that puts you “in orbit” and don’t let yourself touch reality. The Word who became flesh (cf. Jn 1:14) wants to become incarnate in us. It does not disregard life, but situates us in life, in everyday situations, listening to the suffering of our brothers, the cry of the poor, the violence and injustices that hurt society and the planet, so that we are not indifferent Christians, but active, creative Christians, prophetic Christians.
“Today – says Jesus – this passage of Scripture is fulfilled” (Lk 4:21). The Word wants to take flesh today, in the time in which we live, and not in an ideal future. A French mystic of the last century, who had chosen to live the Gospel in the peripheries, wrote that the Word of the Lord is not a “’dead letter’: it is spirit and life. (…) The acoustics that the Word of the Lord requires of us is our “today”: the circumstances of our daily life and the needs of our neighbour” (1). Let us therefore ask ourselves: do we want to imitate Jesus, to become ministers of liberation and consolation for others, to actualize the Word? Are we a Church docile to the Word? Are we a Church that listens to others, that is committed to reaching out to free our brothers and sisters from what oppresses them, to untie the knots of fear, to free the most fragile from the prisons of poverty , inner weariness and sadness that extinguishes life? Do we want this?
In this celebration, some of our brothers and sisters will be instituted readers and catechists. They are called to the important task of serving the Gospel of Jesus, of announcing it so that its consolation, its joy and its liberation reach all. This is also the mission of each of us: to be credible heralds, prophets of the Word in the world. Let us therefore be passionate about Sacred Scripture, let ourselves be penetrated by the Word which reveals the newness of God and leads us to love others without getting tired. Let us put the Word of God back at the center of the pastoral care and the life of the Church! Thus we will be freed from all rigid Pelagianism, from all rigidity, and we will be freed from the illusion of spiritualities that put you “in orbit” without taking care of the brothers and sisters. Let us put the Word of God back at the center of the pastoral care and the life of the Church. Listen to it, pray to it, put it into practice.