Thursday, April 08, 2004
Holy Thursday Chrism Mass  

For the Holy Thursday Chrism Mass, the Gospel reading is taken from the fourth chapter of Luke (4:16-21). It is a tremendous reading in which St. Luke notes that our Lord launched his mission from his hometown of Nazareth. Here He was known by friends, family, and neighbors. They knew Jesus, or at least they thought they did.

Isaiah 61:1-2, which is the passage from which Jesus read, was packed with meaning for those who were in the synagogue that day. It declared proclamation of a year of the Lord's favor or the calling of a Jubilee year. According to the Law given by God to Moses (Leviticus 25:1-12), the Jubilee year was to take place every 50 years. It represented the culmination of seven cycles of seven years. Every seventh year was to be a Sabbath year to in which the land was to rest. The Israelites were not to cultivate crops in the seventh year because the Lord would bless the sixth year with enough crops for two years. Seven times that was to be a very special year. At that time all debts were to be cancelled, slaves were to be released, and all land that had transferred hands in the previous 49 years was to be returned to its original owner.

The problem is that Israel did not keep the seven year Sabbath or the Jubilee year. Israel failed to trust in the Lord to provide when the land was to rest, and Israel did not act justly by canceling debt, freeing slaves, and returning property. Partly because of their failure to keep the Jubilee, the Lord sent Israel into exile in Babylon (Jeremiah 34:7).

When Jesus selected chapter 61 of Isaiah, He chose a passage which expressed the longing of the Jews, who although living in the Promised Land, remained in virtual exile under the oppression of the Romans. They waited for the day when the Lord's favor would rest upon Israel and they would be released from the bondage of enemy occupation. The passage indicates that this would occur when the Messiah came, "the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor" (18). The Messiah is the anointed one. Not long before this, Jesus had been anointed by the Holy Spirit at His baptism by John the Baptist (3:22). By recounting the Lord's words at the synagogue, St. Luke is emphasizing that Jesus is the Messiah even as he hinted at this in his baptism account and noted it in his genealogy (3:23-38).

This is why all eyes are fixed on Jesus when He sits down after reading the passage from Isaiah. All want to know what He will say, and He does not disappoint. He, who they think is only the son of the carpenter Joseph, declares that today this passage has been fulfilled. The report of Jesus full of the Holy Spirit had preceded His return to Nazareth (4:14). Now He is causing a stir because He, the hometown boy known by all, is saying that the long-awaited Messiah has come and the Lord's favor will rest again on Israel.

What did Jesus mean by his commentary on the reading? As Tim Gray notes in Mission of the Messiah, part of the key to understanding that is to notice that Jesus does not quote the passage from Isaiah exactly. Instead He employs a rabbinic technique of combining two Scripture passages which share an identical word. Jesus left out "the day of vengeance of our Lord" from Isaiah 61:2b and inserted the phrase "to set at liberty those who are oppressed" from Isaiah 58:6. The common word is release (translated "set at liberty") which is the word our Lord wanted to emphasize. A purpose of the Jubilee was to remind Israel that they had been released from bondage in Egypt (Deuteronomy 15:15). Now, our Lord is declaring another release. This time the release is not from an oppressive nation, but release from that which ultimately holds us in chains--sin.

It is no wonder that the Church has chosen this tremendous Gospel reading for the Chrism Mass of Holy Thursday. Jesus is the anointed one, the Messiah, and He has come to free us from sin. When he launched His public ministry in Nazareth, He declared the words that would find their ultimate fulfillment in His Passion. At this mass, the Bishop blesses the Holy Chrism which is used in the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Anointing of the Sick. In these sacraments, we receive the fruit of Christ's holy sacrifice, and we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit. In this, we too, become little anointed ones or Christians. Thanks be to God!

Posted by David at 8:00 AM  |  Comments (0)  | 


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