1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Right from the start of his papacy Pope Francis has emphasized the need for the Church to care for the poor. Even choosing the name "Francis" was part of his mission to remind the Church that it is to be a place of mercy and compassion, a community that works for justice for those most vulnerable.
Some of the biblical inspiration for the Pope’s emphasis can be found in the readings for this first Monday of September. Both of these readings reflect on the very beginning of the mission of Jesus and of Paul. They, too, put their emphasis on the cry of the poor and God’s care for them.
The first reading is from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians and it states one of the most fundamental principles of his mission. Paul tells his Corinthian community that he did not come to them "with sublimity of words or of wisdom" but, rather, he had resolved "to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. This is the very core of Paul’s understanding of the gospel. Jesus died as a sign of love for us. His death by crucifixion came about because of a whole series of commitments that had defined Jesus’ mission: his healing, his association with the poor and the outcasts, his bold challenge to the authorities who had other priorities, his ceaseless proclamation of the Kingdom of God which would be "good news for the poor." Thus the cross was transformed from being a sign of a terrible form of capital punishment into a paradoxical sign of ultimate self-sacrificing love. Paul saw in the cross of Jesus that God wished to save the world not through an overwhelming power but through what the world would deem "weakness"-self-sacrificing love. This was a sign for Paul that the God of love revealed through Jesus had a special affinity for those who were suffering and vulnerable.
The Gospel selection from the inaugural scene of Jesus’ mission in the Gospel of Luke drives home this same astounding message. At a dramatic moment in his hometown synagogue of Nazareth, Jesus chooses as the keynote of his own ministry a reading from Isaiah, chapter 61 – "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, and to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord." This quotation is a preview of what Jesus in fact will do as he moved out from Nazareth across Galilee and ultimately to his death and resurrection in Jerusalem.
There are two basic lessons for us in the readings for today. One is that our God, revealed though Jesus Crucified, is a God of unfathomable love, a love lavished in a special way on those who suffer. And, secondly, this same love of God impels us to live lives attuned to God’s love for us and, therefore, to be driven by mercy and compassion in all of our relationships.
Fr. Donald Senior, C.P. is President Emeritus and Professor of New Testament at Catholic Theological Union. He lives at the Passionist residence in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago.