I don’t know why but I have a gut feeling that many, perhaps most, of us might be just a little suspicious of, even cynical, about political manifestos. In today’s readings we are presented with two manifestos. Jesus chooses to launch the Galilean Ministry by quoting from the prophet Isaiah but also by going one stage further, claiming that he is the living fulfilment of the Isaiah prophecy. Paul then provides a kind of manifesto for the church; the church, of course, being the chosen vehicle for the fulfilment of the Jesus manifesto. The point is this: if Jesus is the fulfilment of the Isaiah prophecy, the church, as His body on earth, is responsible for its sustainability. The central concerns of the Isaiah prophecy are liberation, healing and equality. Jesus’ concern is that everyone should brought into relationship with God, and know themselves to be loved by God, and in his ministry he goes on to model, or enact this. The Jesus we are called on to know and love as Saviour, and Redeemer, seeks to liberate all, irrespective of temporal identity markers.
If you read on a few chapters in Luke’s gospel you will find Jesus calling his first disciples or the Apostles (who were a pretty mixed bag), then calling Levi, a despised tax collector, before healing the Roman centurion’s servant and then raising from the dead the widow of Nain’s son before he encounters what Luke describes as ‘some women,’ including Mary Magdalene. All of these are characters who are in search of ‘Good News;’’ all of these characters are in some way ‘poor,’ and ‘oppressed.’ All of these characters need to be liberated from that which oppresses them. They all need to be raised up to newness of life. And, this is what Jesus does in the most lavish and indiscriminate way.
Paul in his Manifesto to the Church starts with the notion of equality. For Paul, equality isn’t some form of abstract philosophical theory, but instead a sacramental reality: ‘For just as the body is one and has many members, and all are members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ,’ followed crucially by, ‘For in the one Spirit we were all BAPTISED into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.’
For Paul we are all, despite our God-given differences, equal in the sight of God through the sacramental reality of baptism. The Eucharist, in which everyone gets the same amount of bread and wine and no one gets seconds (except me), also affirms the sacramental reality that are all are equal in the sight of God. And, this matters. It matters because when we accept that we are all equal in the eyes of God we become truly free to welcome, affirm, and help liberate others on equal terms. We become the sort of people who are comfortable in our own skins, knowing ourselves to be loved into all eternity by God, whilst accepting that the creator God has crafted a beautifully diverse humanity.
Our mandate as baptised Christians is to affirm and release the skills of all, for the good of all. Our job is to model the beauty of individuality in community. Jesus welcomed all and affirmed all. He brought fishermen, tax collectors, widows, Roman Centurions, women such Mary Magdalene, the cultural elite such as Nicodemus and, countless others into relationship with himself and with each other. Both Jesus and St. Paul insisted that a true religious, or Christian, community should be characterised by the love and concern its members show for each other, with each individual standing in solidarity with the beloved other: ‘if anyone member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.’ Mother Theresa’s reflection on this was simply this: ‘If we have no peace it is because we have forgotten that we belong to one another.’
The credibility of the ‘good news’ as presented through the Jesus manifesto is contingent on us – the baptised – living out our sacramental reality, as individuals in community, standing alongside one another, bound together through love. This is the ‘more excellent’ way that both Jesus and Paul place at their heart of their manifestos and when we live this way as baptised Christians we render the gospel truly credible,