Corrupting power

I have always been interested in the stories of the Kings of Judah and Israel as accounted in the Bible’s books of 1st/2nd Kings and 1st/2nd Chronicles. When the topic is raised among most Christian people, I would suggest that people recall the reign of King David and the stories of his son, King Solomon – and conclude that the era of the Kings was a good thing. They easily forget that Saul was the first king and his reign did not end well. Nor did Solomon’s. And David had his own spectacular moral failures. Apart from King Josiah, the rest of the Kings of Judah and Israel are judged harshly by Scripture, failing to do their duty to God and the covenant people, falling prey to the corruption of power.

It not just kings of all place and times; it applies to Popes and Franciscans. Francesco della Rovere was a Franciscan and Minister General of the Order. He was noted for his humility and commitment to the values of the Franciscan Order. In 1471 he was elected pope and took the name Sixtus VI. In his time as pope he was noted for nepotism, lavish spending, and involvement in the infamous Pazzi conspiracy.

King, Popes, Franciscans: the English Catholic historian, politician, and writer, Lord Acton would have well understood their corruption.

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And what about us?

Today’s gospel is a very familiar one and is part of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry according to the Gospel of Luke. The scene is set in a local synagogue and Jesus is asked to read from the Scriptures. as seems to have been the tradition, the invited reader was able to select a passage. Jesus chose to read from the Prophet Isaiah (61:1):

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.

Certainly the passage is meant to be understood by the listeners (and us!) as Jesus’ public testimony that he is the long awaited anointed one, the Christos. As the passage continues the listeners quickly move to “who does he think he is” and try to throw Jesus off a cliff as punishment for his blasphemy. I think the trajectory of the account quickly leaves the citation from Isaiah in the “rear view.”‘

What about us? Take some time and read Isaiah 61. The Word of the Lord is being spoken to the people of Israel in their Babylonian Exile. It is not only a promise of return to Jerusalem, but it is also a challenge of “if you say you are the People of God, then here is what I expect.” Just as Jesus promised glad tidings to the poor, liberty to those captive, sight to those blinded, and freedom from burdens – we are anointed by our baptism to offer those things in our age.

Today, in the midst of pandemic fatigue, viral uncertainty, and the loss of “normal,” we need glad tidings and to be people who bring glad tidings. We are captive to the pandemic, burdened by the necessary safety precautions, find it hard to see an end, and simply want to be free to hug family and friends. And yet, we are called to be Christ for one another, to bring the light of Christ into our lives and lives of others.

What about us? How will we fulfill our baptismal vows in which we too were anointed with Spirit of the Lord? There is a people in a modern captivity of this pandemic that need to hear the Good News.