Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Jan. 24.
In today’s Gospel Jesus goes, as per custom, to the synagogue of Nazareth, his hometown.
Unlike the Temple in Jerusalem, where animal sacrifices were offered in fulfillment of the ritual provisions of the Law, synagogues were places where men gathered to study what the Law had to say about the matters of daily life.
But by the time of today’s Gospel Jesus had reached the point of realizing just how oppressive the law can be when it doesn’t make the adjustments necessary to take the reality of human suffering fully into account. And so today he begins to proclaim the Good News of God’s grace, which sometimes will require us to find a way around the law or even set the law aside in the interest of a greater good. This is what will put him on a collision course with the religious authorities, for whom “the law is the law is the law” even when the consequences could not possibly be God’s will.
In today’s Gospel Jesus gives us his mission statement and that of his followers by quoting Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
One of the greatest places of human suffering today is among refugees fleeing violence in their homelands. There are many people who have fled horrible situations in Central America in order to save their lives and provide for their children. And as bad as it is to live here without legal status, they are at least out of harm’s way and living in a place where it is possible to find work, albeit without legal authorization to do so. But this is not the case for millions of people fleeing the violence in Syria and Iraq.
Pope Francis asked every parish in Europe to sponsor a refugee family and in places like Germany and Sweden the response has been very generous and inspiring, unlike that of the United States. Last year Germany received a million refugees; we received 4,605 from Syria and Iraq combined.
But with all our praise of Germany, which is much in the news, we fail to notice the even greater sacrifices being made by the far poorer countries that actually border Syria. Lebanon, which has 4.5 million people, has received a million refugees too, and they are a tiny country — the size of five Arkansas counties.
So I asked our Presbyteral Council what — given the restrictions in U.S. law — can we in Arkansas do to respond here to Pope Francis’ request that every parish sponsor a refugee family, and here is what we came up with: How about if we pair Arkansas parishes with parishes in Lebanon who are ministering directly to the overwhelming needs of the refugees in their area? We could provide material assistance and also establish human ties, sharing stories and photos. People in Arkansas who are themselves immigrants can share their stories with people there.
So I contacted the Church in Lebanon and have identified two parishes in which many Iraqis and Syrians have found refuge. These are the parishes at Bourj Hammoud and Dekwaneh in the Diocese of Antelias, Lebanon. They would welcome any help to develop their programs and earlier this week I sent a message to the priests of the diocese about this possibility for even the smallest of our parishes.
Pope Francis has declared this year to be a great Jubilee Year of God’s Mercy and in today’s Gospel Jesus proclaims that bringing God’s mercy to those in need is fundamental for his mission and thus for anyone who would follow him. And I believe we have found a way for every Arkansas parish to provide real help to refugees, despite the fact that American law does not presently allow us to receive them here.
In any event, whether in this way or in some other way, I encourage all of us to consider the concrete things we can do to make Jesus’ words our own: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
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