Michael Di Gregorio, O.S.A.
Province of Saint Thomas of Villanova
Is 61: 1-2a, 10-11
Lk 1: 46-48, 49-50. 53-54
1 Thes 5: 16-24
Jn 1: 6-8, 19-28
Rejoice always! Surely there are moments when rejoicing is very appropriate and comes to us spontaneously and naturally. But “always”?
What kind of a world did Paul live in that he could say such a thing in today’s second reading and not expect to be laughed at – or mocked! Did he know nothing of the trials and burdens of so many people’s lives? Did he really expect this of people who had lost loved ones, people out of work, victims of war and injustice? Or even of people who were having a bad day, or the sick, or the lonely? In fact, however, Paul knew all of those things and experienced great personal hardship himself repeatedly. He speaks these words that we hear today not because things were for a moment going well for him, but rather, despite the fact that they were not going well at all. Paul is convinced that even in the midst of his trials and difficulties there is reason for rejoicing - precisely because he was convinced of God’s compassion and fidelity. He knows that the ability to be joyful does not depend on the amount of freedom from hardship a person enjoys; rather, it depends on the extent of our awareness that God is near and involved in our lives. And so Paul is confident in telling others what he himself has come to experience through faith. He wants the Thessalonians to share that same joy.
Isaiah, who speaks in the first reading today says that God had entrusted him with the specific mission to give his people reasons for rejoicing: to the poor, to the brokenhearted, to captives and prisoners Isaiah also delivers a message of hope – that God will bring justice to his people. A day is coming when life will be different for you, he says. And with Jesus that day has come!
Perhaps you remember that when Jesus was just beginning his public ministry, he entered the temple one day on the Sabbath and picked up the Scriptures to read to the congregation. And he read these very words of Isaiah addressed to the poor, the brokenhearted, captives and prisoners. And finishing the passage he rolled up the scroll and announced: Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. With Jesus the day of promise has arrived.
That is why Paul can rejoice and urge his fellow Christians to rejoice also, because there is Jesus. And our preparation now in these weeks for the celebration once again of the coming of this Jesus is meant to re-sensitize us to this great gift we have been given in him who has come to us, to call back to our awareness:
• that we are the poor to whom the good news is preached, poor in those values that could make us feel complete, poor in self-understanding or self-worth, poor in appreciation of God’s love for us;
• we are the brokenhearted who are offered healing, brokenhearted from the hurts we have received from strangers but even more so from those we love;
• we are the captives who are set free, captives to desires and ambitions that we can never realize and perhaps never should;
• we are the prisoners who are released, prisoners of our own pettiness and shortsightedness, of our envy and pride.
Paul can say to us “rejoice” because he sees everything with the eyes of faith. He, like John the Baptist, bears witness to the one who comes to renew the face of the earth. But if you and I have faith enough to see the reasons for our own rejoicing, then we too must bear witness to the world and to so many who live without good news, to so many others who are poor and brokenhearted and imprisoned, that there is hope because there is Jesus.