I seldom watch the series Downton Abbey. It’s a story of a family and its life of privilege, a life they know will not last much longer as the social situation of England changes. The really interesting people are those who have chosen a life of service. It’s not a bad deal – they had a roof over their heads, three meals a day. But they have to know their place – which is not upstairs unless they were called. In a recent episode a young woman visited Downton on business. It turned out that she’d worked there for three years before she left to better herself. She worked there for three years and the family couldn’t remember her. She was just there, in her place and they were there in their place.
The more things change the more they remain the same. At the time of Jesus this was the same mentality – know your place. Everyone had a proper place in society that was established by birth. No one was ever expected to neither become something better nor improve on the lot of their parents. The people of Nazareth knew Jesus was the son of Joseph the carpenter. What’s with his going around and acting like a rabbi?
Jesus worked his way home after spending 40 days in the desert praying and fasting and sorting out the message he’d received at his baptism – you are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased. Having overcome the temptations to turn away from his destiny and seek self – satisfaction or power, or a great reputation, Jesus began preaching in the towns of Galilee. The ordinary people were impressed by what he said and did. They felt he was one of them not like their leaders the Scribes and Pharisees.
Finally he made his way home. The word went out that he was going to read the scriptures on the Sabbath. The synagogue was packed with curious people. His neighbours were curious about what he had to say and wondered about his popularity.
Jesus attributed the call of Isaiah to himself – the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed. Jesus is perceived by his neighbours as being uppity, as stepping shamefully beyond his family boundaries. His father Joseph was a carpenter – who does he think he making such claims.
Rubbing salt into the wounds opened by his insulting behavior Jesus inserts himself into the prophetic line of Elijah and Elisha. Prophets who worked beyond the confines of the Jewish people, prophets God sent to the gentiles, the widow in Sidon and the Syrian leper Naaman. Jesus too would reach out to Samaritans and Gentiles. He was called to be for all people.
But what a home coming! They ran him out of town proving the truth of his saying, ‘a prophet is not without honor except in his own town.
What does all this have to do with us? The Spirit of the Lord was given to us at our baptism giving us the power to carry on the works of Jesus in our times. We are his voice, his eyes, his ears, his hands his right here, right now.
Every time we speak out against racism, bigotry or homophobia, every time we work for and support social justice whether it be justice for the peoples of our first nations, or adequate and affordable housing or a living and just wage, every time we respect all people who come into our lives, every time we try to live simply that others may simply live, we are driven and strengthened by the same Spirit who inspired Jesus when spoke so truthfully to his friends and neighbours. Like Jesus we will face opposition and ridicule. We will be asked ‘who do we think we are but this is what makes us faithful to our Christian faith. Faithful to Jesus the Christ.
As we continue to celebrate this Mass we pray for each other that we always try to live this Mass outside these wall guided and strengthened by the Spirit of God, the spirit of Jesus knowing he is with us every step of the way.