Liberated by Christ
by Rev. Joseph M. Rampino
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
Since many have undertaken to complete a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the world have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news of him spread throughout the whole region. He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all. He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the Sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: 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.
As Americans, the word "liberty" holds an exalted place in our collective consciousness. We understand not only our founding, but each true step forward for our nation in terms of pursuing greater liberty for our fellow citizens. Whatever measures we pursue, no matter what our politics or ideologies might be, we pursue them for the sake of liberty, real or imagined, from some form of oppression. What's more, we can often act as though this modern pursuit of liberty represents something new in human history, a brightening dawn at the end of a long night of subjugation for the common people of the world.
And yet, today in our Gospel, we hear a 2,000-year-old account of Jesus preaching in the synagogue of Nazareth that God's prophesied moment to proclaim "liberty to captives ... is fulfilled" (Lk 4:18,21). He openly claims to be God's very answer to the captivity and oppression of the nations, the one who not only brings the beginning of liberation for all, but who proclaims it as already accomplished. This apparent contrast between our historical understanding of liberty and God's own understanding of liberty should lead us to ask: what does it really mean to be set free?
In order to answer that question and illuminate what is unique in the liberty Christ brings, we begin by looking at what oppressor is defeated by these different forms of liberation. We can summarize the difference in this way: modern political movements, revolutions and nations liberate us from worldly and external forms of oppression, while Christ liberates us from supernatural and internal oppression. Our own nations seeks to secure for us liberty to live, worship, speak publicly, vote, work and carry out our lives without undue human intervention or enslavement. Christ, on the other hand, secures for us through his death on the cross the liberty to become good, to become friends of god, to inherit divine life, without the enslavement of sin. Of course, of the two, only Christ's liberty is eternal and definitive; the world will pass away, our soul will not.
Simple reflection immediately shows us how much deeper the Lord's liberation reaches. No matter how free we might be in our public lives, no matter how many rights we accrue, no matter how many oppressors fall before just laws and political action, we can still remain prisoners in our very souls by choosing to submit to sin, which does not love us. As St. John Chrysostom once wrote: "Sin exercises the worst of all tyrannies, commanding to do evil, and destroying them that obey it." If we are free of human oppressors, but bound by sin, led about by sinful desire, and oppressed internally by fear, anger and discouragement, then we can hardly call ourselves free at all. On the other hand, Christian history is full of stories of saints oppressed by persecutors and enemies externally, without any modern rights or freedoms, and yet, free in spirit, without fear, without hatred, full of hope and of love. Liberated by the forgiveness of Christ and by confidence in God's love for them, nothing on earth could hold back their joy.
In short, if we have the world's liberty, but not Christ's, we are still slaves. If we have Christ's liberty, even without the world's, we are truly free. As much as we ought to value and defend the freedoms our modern age affords us, we must also confess that Christ has done something far greater. He has given a liberation that can thrive in any world, and that promises perfect freedom with the one who loves us forever.