Luke 1:1-21, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
If you Google, “life expectancy in first century,” you’ll get 30-35 years, average. Ang ikli ng buhay nila, ‘no? But before paracetamol, penicillin, vaccines, plus back-breaking work before modern engineering, the first-century human body really took a beating. So, if scholars are right in saying that Jesus died at 33 or 34, after around two years or so of ministry, then, we realize that he left home for public ministry pretty much at tail end of his life. “Matanda” na siya, kung baga. But, hey, even then, for a good two years or so, Jesus made a huge difference in many anonymous lives. Those two years would have been his “golden era,” in the real sense of the phrase.
When Jesus returned to Nazareth that day, he made a courtesy call to the guys. And what was the best place to find them and say hello? The old, familiar synagogue service. Medyo matagal siyang nawala. Marami na siyang nakita, narinig, natutunan sa mga karaniwang tao; things he would’ve known very little of if he had remained Nazareth-bound and tethered to the synagogue. In fact, he was an outstanding preacher by now, Luke says. I figure, Jesus wouldn’t have had so many hits and likes if he preached only the usual synagogue stuff. No; people found him compelling and credible because the sick, the dying, the grieving, the sinning—they all heard and saw their lives afresh from this man’s strangely soothing stories, and from the healing touch of his carpenter’s hands.
What a happy coincidence that day. The guys must’ve been eager to hear from him. The scroll they handed him had just the right words. ‘Yun bang parang nag-bible-cutting ka. Tapos, the verse that falls on you describes exactly what you’ve been through! So, talk about prophetic, the verse from Isaiah happened to exactly describe where he had been and what he’d been up to, all this time away from home: bringing glad tidings to the poor, liberty to captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed. “Today,” Jesus finally said, “this is fulfilled in your hearing.” Ito po ang mismong pinaggagawa ko sa aking buhay. I have fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy. In a service like that, a Jew was expected to say something about the reading after proclaiming it. I guess, parang homily ngayon, ‘yung sinasabi nilang “patotoo.” So, knowing Jesus, I bet nakarinig sila ng kaunting pasaring: “Kayo po, kumusta? Maghapong pa rin pala kayong nagdedebate tungkol sa salita ng Diyos. E’ kumusta po naman ang ating patotoo? Kumusta ang ating preferential option for the poor, ‘ika nga? Kumusta po ang mga dukha sa buhay natin, mga bilanggo, may kapansanan, mga api?” You and I know how this story ends, right? Whatever Jesus said that day, it almost cost him his life! They mobbed him!
But back to the point, sisters and brothers. Jesus went full-throttle on public ministry for only two or so years, and at the cusp of life expectancy. If the churchmen and politicians didn’t kill him, he wouldn’t have had long to live anyway, either. But see, that’s just the marvel about Jesus. He’s the only historical figure I know who’s still making a huge difference today the world over, despite only two years of ministry. Napaikli lang ng kanyang “golden era.”
I woke up on my birthday three weeks ago and I confess, sisters and brothers, when I opened my eyes, I didn’t say, “Thank you, God for the last 56 years.” Nope. I said, “Ginoo ko, 56 years old!” The ceiling looked back down and asked: Talaga, 56 years old? Ilang dukha na ba ang natulungan mo? Itong praying-praying mo, ikinahain ba n’yan ng kanin at ulam sa hapag nila, ikinamatrikula ba nila ‘yan, ikinabayad ng utang nila kahit kaunti? Itong theo–theology mo, ikinabuhay ba ‘yan ng namatayan ng loob, ikinaluwag ng nagsisikip na dibdib, ikinahimasmas ng mga nanggagalaiti? Sabi ko, “Walang-hiyang kisame! Nanunumbat!”
Sisters and brothers, if we’re lucky, we can live to be a hundred years old. On average, though, 80-85 is all we have these days. But compared to Jesus’ 33? That’s plenty! Maybe that’s one lesson Isaiah and Jesus are teaching us today. No matter how long or short our lives might be, we can make Isaiah’s prophecy come true…
…lalo na if you have more money, more power, more means than most people, to bring glad tidings to the poor, liberty to captives, sight to the blind, relief for the oppressed, and make every year of your life, favorable to over 105-million Pinoys who have less than 105 pesos in their pitaka on any given day. If you’re reading this, and you’re running for any office, and you win, imagine God’s gift of six life-years, when, for a change, you go full-throttle on making Isaiah’s prophecy come true. What’s six years out of a lifetime awash in wealth, to uplift the rest? Anyway, you’ve already promised them the sun and moon, right? And they believe you. What’s six years off of your life to fulfill their hopes… for a change?
Jesus had only two years; but golden years they were, for the people whose lives he touched. That’s what “golden years” really means. Years of freeing, not suppressing, jailing critics; years of letting live, not salvaging (remember that word?), years of telling the truth, not lying and lying some more kahit na-fact-check ka na, years of uplifting the poor, not further enriching cronies; years of paying back what is owed, and owning up that you stole. What makes any era “golden” is goodness! Not systematic evil. By the way, we have a funny saying in bisayâ, I just need to tell you: ang bakakon igsoon sa kawatan. Ang sinungaling kapatid ng magnanakaw.
How many years have we got left, sisters and brothers? On your next birthday, when you open your eyes first thing in the morning, and if ever you don’t feel like saying, “Thank you, God, for another year of life,” I pray, anyway that a thousand others will say it on behalf of you, thankful for your having spent your life making Isaiah’s prophecy true in theirs.