Saint Peter Claver – Readings

Saint Peter Claver – Commentary on Isaiah 58:6-10; Ps 146; Luke 4:16-22a

The Gospel reading is from Luke’s account of the beginning of Jesus’ public life. After his baptism in the Jordan and the temptations in the desert, Jesus returned from the area on the Jordan river where John the Baptist had been preaching and moved north to his home province of Galilee. News of his coming spread through the region and he went to teach in many synagogues.
He arrived in his home town of Nazareth and, as was his custom, went to the synagogue on the sabbath. As was his right, he stood up to read the scripture. (It is likely in those days that few people were literate enough to be able to do this.) He was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
Unrolling the scroll he found a passage which he read out. The words are actually from two separate passages of Isaiah – 61:1-2 and 58:6. The words were originally used by Isaiah about his own mission for the restoration of Jerusalem but here are applied by Jesus to himself.
They express the essence of Jesus’ mission, his establishing of God’s Kingdom on earth. His right to do this is based on his being filled with the Spirit of God. This happened when the Spirit came down on Jesus at his baptism. And his anointing is an assertion that he is the Messiah, the Christos, the Anointed One. These are his credentials for what follows.
And his mission is to bring Good News to the poor of the world, those who are poor in every sense of the word. He will bring liberation to the captive, whatever that captivity may involve. He will restore sight to the blind, again those who are blind in every sense of the word. As he will say later, he is the Light of the World in whose light we are enabled to see.
At the end of the reading, the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him, full of expectation. He then tells them that the words they have just heard are being realised right there in their hearing. From all that follows in this gospel, Jesus’ words will be more than confirmed.
The passage applies beautifully to the life and work of Peter Claver for the slaves and other spiritually blind people. Jesus is often called the ‘Man for Others’. It is a title that could well be given to Peter Claver who, as the ‘slave of the slaves’ wore himself out in taking care of and identifying with people who went through appalling sufferings and were treated worse than animals (by people who called themselves Christians!).
The First Reading from the prophet Isaiah parallels and supplements the words of Jesus in the Gospel. The prophet has been castigating the people for paying a lot of attention to their fasting and penances while totally neglecting the well-being of their brothers and sisters. While they are fasting they are fighting among themselves and oppressing their workers. Do they think the Lord is happy with them bowing their head like a reed and lying in sackcloth and ashes? It looks so holy but…
This is the fasting the Lord wants: releasing those unjustly in captivity, setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing their bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked… All the things which Peter was trying to do while many of his fellow Spaniards were causing all this suffering, and at the same time piously celebrating religious feast days with pomp and ceremony.
For those who spend themselves in serving their brothers’ and sisters’ needs, “their light will break forth like the dawn and their wound will be quickly healed”. “If you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted, then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.”
How do these passages apply to my life or to the practices of my parish? Who are the people in need? What kind of needs do they have? Can we do anything to heal them? What do ‘fasting’, ‘penance’ and ‘holiness’ mean in our Christian life today? Maybe we should ask Peter Claver.

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