Chrism Mass 2017
St. Thomas Aquinas Cathedral
Bishop Randolph Calvo
In the synagogue at Nazareth Jesus made some bold claims, which didn’t go over very well with his listeners. Today’s Gospel tells part of the story, if we read on, we’d hear that the people rejected Jesus and in fact, were so angry that they wanted to kill him. Jesus read a passage from the Prophet Isaiah and declared, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” What was so upsetting about that? When we listen to the passage from Isaiah, we hear good things: the Spirit anointed and sent Jesus to bring hope, healing, joy to the poor, freedom, justice and consolation.
What’s upsetting about this? It’s what is beneath the words of the prophet. The one anointed is sent by the Spirit not just to care for people in need and are hurting. No, the anointed one is sent because there is something very wrong with the nation: there is hopeless poverty and oppression; relationships are broken; there is injustice and so people mourn as a consequence. If we continue to read the passage from Isaiah, we hear that the anointed one will repair and rebuild what has been ruined and devastated. In quoting Isaiah, Jesus makes a similar assessment of things and reveals that he is sent to repair and rebuild but in a radical way: by proclaiming the kingdom of God.
What needed repair and rebuilding? In the Old Testament, the prophets often spoke about shalom, a word we translate as “peace”. But it is far more than a calm feeling or the absence of conflict. It is a harmony that comes when everything is whole and not broken; when our relationship with God is whole; when our relationships with one another are right; and when we are in right relationship with creation. Someone described shalom in this way: “The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom” (C. Plantinga). So the Spirit anoints and sends Jesus because there is no shalom in the world.
I would say this is true of our nation today. Shalom is missing. There is no harmony; we are divided as a nation. And this division leaves us paralyzed and bears consequences for people, especially for those most vulnerable and without a voice in society. Our relationship with God, with one another, and with creation is not whole or right.
Today, whom does the Spirit anoint and send to bring joy, hope, freedom, justice and consolation in a land where shalom is missing? Who is anointed? Who bears the name of the Christ? Look around you. Those of us here who are baptized have received this anointing and have been sent. We are to bear to the world the vision proclaimed by Christ at Nazareth, in the Sermon on the Mount, in his proclamation of the kingdom of God, in his death and resurrection. We share in Christ’s prophetic mission.
And so we speak out of things that matter: the sanctity of human life; concern for the poor; support of the family; respect for the dignity of immigrants; promotion of peace; freedom of religion; and care for creation—the life and the resources of our planet which belong, not to a privileged few, but to the whole human race today and for generations to come. We voice the words of the prophets because there can be no true harmony among us if there is no justice and no mercy. Greed, dishonesty, human exploitation, fear and violence break us and prevent us from being whole. There can be no shalom in our nation if we are indifferent to the plight of the weakest among us; if we do not protect the most vulnerable, such as the unborn child; if we do seek to lift up the millions stuck in poverty.
In the synagogue at Nazareth, after Jesus made his own the words of the prophet Isaiah, the people looked at him and said, “Who are you to say these things?” And people will ask the same of us. “Just who do you think you are to speak out on these issues?” The answer is found in what we solemnly bless today—the oils, especially sacred chrism. For when we were anointed, we received the gift of the Holy Spirit who sends us forth to speak of things that matter most in the eyes of God.