There's an old story that keeps resurfacing in church circles. It seems that someone at the Vatican got word that the second coming of Christ was about to happen. Within minutes, everyone at the Vatican had heard the rumor. Anxiety and panic were running rampant as staff members scurried to and fro. One of the senior cardinals ran to the pope's private apartment, knocked on the door and announced breathlessly: "Your holiness, Jesus is coming! Jesus is coming! What shall we do?" The Holy Father looked up from his papers and said, "Look busy, man! Look busy!"
Busy is what we do every day. We have our routine habits for almost everything. Each evening we set the alarm to get up the following morning. We drive the same route to and from work or school. We buy gas at the same station, park in the same space, work in the same office cubicle, and sit in the same chair for dinner and the same pew at church, milk the same cows, plow the same fields. We go to bed the same time every night. Our life is one of familiar routines, rarely interrupted by anything more drastic than a late mail delivery, a computer breakdown or the liquor store not having our favorite beer on hand.
These habits and routines can be like old shoes: comfortable and comforting. They can help us get our daily work done. Yet there is another side to these routines that is not so good: they can be far too confining!. Habits have the power to blind us, to trap us inside tiny lives and tiny ideas, to persuade us that life itself is small and insignificant. Over time, these daily routines of ours can lead to quiet desperation.
That is why we need to listen carefully to what Jesus is saying to us as he reads from the scroll of Isaiah the prophet in the synagogue at Nazareth: "God's Spirit is upon me. He has chosen me to preach good news to the poor, to announce pardon to prisoners and give sight to the blind, to set free the burdened and battered." Here Jesus is speaking to all of us, for we all are in many ways poor, in many ways blind, in many ways imprisoned by habits and prejudice, and certainly in many ways we are burdened and battered by our life experiences.
In today's Gospel, Jesus is reminding us that our lives are not petty and small, but meaningful and possessing tremendous consequences. Jesus is reminding us that we are splendidly gifted, and the ordinary tasks of our lives are really building blocks for God's reign on earth. Our lives and our loves are precious to God. So we need to approach life with open minds, open hands, open hearts if we are to be true to the gifts God gives us.
So with bowed heads, let this be our prayer: Open our eyes, Lord, that we may recognize and pursue opportunities for good. Open our hands, Lord, to lift up others who journey at our side. Open our hearts, Lord, to embrace the goodness of all creation. Free us from the prison of small-mindedness and selfishness, from the fears and anxieties that plague us. We ask all this favor in Jesus' name. AMEN!