By Brother Matthew Schaefer, C.PP.S.
When I was in initial formation with the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, one of my volunteer activities during the first semester was visiting people at Maria Joseph Nursing Center in Dayton. My first visit on my first day was with a woman in the independent living section. After welcoming me into her apartment, we introduced ourselves. After a moment of silence, she asked, “So, what do you have to tell me about Jesus?” I was stunned to realize that my volunteer work was actually ministry. Noticing the dog-eared Bible and religious magazines on her coffee table, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. I finally replied that I wasn’t sure I had anything to tell her about Jesus, but that maybe we could just talk.
The issue of evangelization is a recurring one in the Church. Every once in a while the Church promotes the necessity for evangelization in an official document that offers guidance for dioceses, parishes and individuals. We have all been called to follow Jesus and that means sharing the Good News of salvation. But no matter how many documents we read or programs we attend at our parishes, we cannot simply imitate others whom we admire—even Jesus. Each of us has to find our own way to spread the Good News given our unique set of gifts, abilities and preferences.
In today’s Gospel reading from Luke, we have an example of the beginning of ministry that would terrify most of us. In the other Gospels, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry is less intimidating. Matthew tells us vaguely that Jesus “began to preach” before he calls the twelve. In Mark, Jesus proclaims the Gospel by saying the Kingdom of God is at hand. John tells us that Jesus calls the twelve and then performs a miracle at the wedding at Cana. But Luke has Jesus beginning his ministry in a much more dramatic way. Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth, enters the synagogue, and publically reads a passage from Isaiah. Then, with everyone looking at him, he proclaims, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” The people are impressed by Jesus’ manner, but they soon turn on him. After implying that God’s promises of liberation and healing are not meant only for the Jews, he is driven from the synagogue and out of town. He continues his public ministry, but now he is encountering people in the towns of Galilee—starting at the bottom as it were.
None of can (or should) imitate the example of Jesus in this passage. Jesus plunges into ministry with both feet. We are told in the reading that Jesus was driven by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit that had recently descended upon him at his baptism. The Spirit that had just led him past the temptations in the desert. And this same Spirit had put him before the assembly of the synagogue to boldly proclaim himself to be the anointed one promised by Isaiah.
It makes sense that Jesus would begin his ministry in this way. Being the fulfillment of the Word of God, he goes to a place where the Word is most highly revered, a synagogue on the Sabbath. While we cannot imitate Jesus exactly, we can prepare ourselves for our own moments of ministry, whether they are on our calendars or they appear before us unexpectedly. We can prepare by maintaining a close relationship with Holy Scripture and by calling upon the Holy Spirit for guidance, confidence and courage to face our own opportunities to evangelize.
Brother Matthew Schaefer, C.PP.S., is in ministry at the Downtown Dayton Parishes, which include Emmanuel, Holy Trinity and St. Joseph.