Pope Francis told Christians Wednesday that if they want to understand Jesus they should pay close attention to the “good news” he brings in his sermon in the Nazareth synagogue when he says he is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s Old Testament prophecy.
At his weekly public audience Jan. 25, the pope said that when Jesus enters the synagogue and reads the passage from Isaiah he “then surprises everyone with a very short ‘sermon’ of just one sentence, just one sentence. And he speaks thus, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’ (Lk 4:21).”
“This means that for Jesus that prophetic passage contains the essence of what he wants to say about himself. So, whenever we talk about Jesus, we should go back to that first announcement of his,” the pope said.
The Holy Father then proceeded to break down the following passage from Isaiah that Jesus read in the synagogue:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to release the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (Lk 4:18-19).
The pope explained that the teachings or “proclamation” Jesus delivered that day can be distilled into five essential points that make up the Gospel or “good news”: joy, deliverance, light, healing, and wonder.
The “good news to the poor,” is “a proclamation of gladness,” the pope said.
“One cannot speak of Jesus without joy, because faith is a wonderful love story to be shared. Bearing witness to Jesus, doing something for others in his name, to have received ‘between the lines’ of one’s life, so beautiful a gift that no words suffice to express it,” he said.
Joy is also the mark of the Christian faith, he said, adding: “When joy is lacking, the Gospel does not come through.”
Pope Franics explained that when Jesus says he was sent to “release the captives” it means “that one who proclaims God cannot proselytize, no, cannot pressure others, no, but relieve them: not impose burdens, but take them away; bearing peace, not bearing guilt.
“Those who witness to Christ show the beauty of the goal rather than the toil of the journey,” he said.
Referring to Isaiah’s prophecy that one would come to “bring sight to the blind,” the pope noted that the restoration of sight is something new that came with Christ.
“It is striking that throughout the Bible, before Christ, the healing of a blind man never appears, never. It was indeed a promised sign that would come with the Messiah,” he said.
The light that Christ brings, he said, is one of a relationship with God.
“He brings us the light of sonship: He is the beloved Son of the Father, living forever; with him we too are children of God loved forever, despite our mistakes and faults,” the pope said.
Pope Francis devoted the majority of his catechesis to the subject of “healing,” particularly healing from guilt and the burdens of sin.
“Jesus says he came ‘to set at liberty those who are oppressed,’” the pope said.
“The oppressed are those in life who feel crushed by something that happens: sickness, labors, burdens on the heart, guilt, mistakes, vices, sins.”
“We think of the sense of guilt, for example. How many of us have suffered this?” the pope asked.
“But the good news is that with Jesus, this ancient evil, sin, which seems invincible, no longer has the last word,” he said.
“Those who carry burdens need a caress for the past. So many times we hear, ‘But I would need to heal my past,’” he said.
“Brothers, sisters, do not forget: God forgets everything. How so? Yes, he forgets all our sins. That he forgets. That’s why he has no memory. God forgives everything because he forgets our sins. Only he wants us to draw near to the Lord and he forgives us everything,” the pope continued.
When Jesus says he came “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:19), the pope explained, he was declaring a “jubilee” — but “not a scheduled jubilee” such as we have today.
“Christ is the Jubilee of every day, every hour, drawing you near, to caress you, to forgive you,” he said.
This new reality or “grace” should be received with an attitude of wonder, he said.
“The proclamation of Jesus must always bring the amazement of grace. This amazement… ‘No, I can’t believe it! I have been forgiven.’ But this is how great our God is. Because it is not we who do great things, but rather the grace of the Lord who, even through us, accomplishes unexpected things.
“And these are the surprises of God. God is the master of surprises. He always surprises us, is always waiting, waits for us. We arrive, and he has been expecting us. Always. The Gospel comes with a sense of wonder and newness that has a name: Jesus.”
The pope added that the “good news” Jesus shares in his proclamation is addressed to “the poor” and that all Christians must become poor to encounter Christ.
“You have to overcome any pretense of self-sufficiency in order to understand oneself to be in need of grace, and to always be in need of him.
“If someone tells me, ‘Father, what is the shortest way to encounter Jesus?’ Be needy. Be needy for grace, needy for forgiveness, be needy for joy. And he will draw near to you,” the pope said in concluding his catechesis.
The pope’s general audience message was the third in a new weekly series of catechesis, or teachings, on evangelization and apostolic zeal.
Following his remarks, the Holy Father noted that the International Holocaust Remembrance Day will be observed Jan. 27.
“In remembrance of that extermination of millions of Jewish people and people of other faiths that must neither be forgotten nor denied. There can be no sustained commitment to building fraternity together without first dispelling the roots of hatred and violence that fueled the horror of the Holocaust,” he said.
Pope Francis concluded with a prayer for Ukraine.
“In our thoughts and prayers, may the tormented Ukraine, so much afflicted, not be absent,” he said. “This morning I had a meeting with the leaders of the different confessions of faith that are in Ukraine — all united — and they told me about the pain of that people. Let us never forget, every day, to pray for definitive peace in Ukraine.”