I happen to love the Gospel of Luke, like so many others do. Although we are in Liturgical Cycle A for the Sunday Lectionary, which brings us the Gospel of Matthew weekly, I find myself returning to Luke time and again in my own prayerful reflection. There is just so much there: the Canticle of Zechariah, the Magnificat, the Annunciation — and this is just the first few chapters!
I found myself looking over what is sometimes called Jesus’s commision, or perhaps more aptly, his “mission plan,” which is found in Luke 4:16-22. He returns to his hometown of Nazareth to read from the book of the Prophet Isaiah and then announces that what has been heard is now fulfilled in the life and ministry of the proclaimer of that word: Jesus of Nazareth.
Being the Franciscan friar that I am, it occurred to me to take a look at the commentary of St. Bonaventure on this passage. Unlike contemporary academic scripture commentaries, this medieval commentary contains little etymological or strictly exegetical material (at least as we conceive of it today) and instead offers a spiritual interpretation of the reading.
Bonaventure has an interesting take on this passage, using an interpretive lens drawn from the teaching of Jesus that immediately follows his reading of the prophet. The medieval Franciscan says that there are four “notes of excellence” or characteristics of Christ that are revealed to us: Jesus is mediator, teacher, restorer and rewarder (mediator, eruditor, reparator, retributor).
It seems fitting to me that if we are to follow in the footprints of Christ, living the Vita Evangelica (Gospel Life), then it would make sense to model our mission in this world, our life plan after that announced by Jesus himself. I think that Bonaventure’s take on Jesus’s mission offers us something to think about and guide us.
- We are to be mediators: Bonaventure says that it is through the Holy Spirit, the in-dwelling of God’s breath, that Jesus is a mediator. One mediates the will of God, in the Spirit, by fulfilling the prophecy of Daniel 9:24 (Bonaventure adopts the Vulgate translation): “vision and prophecy may be fulfilled. And everlasting justice may be fulfilled.” We are mediators of God when we see the world as it is — vision and prophecy — and announce the justice of God in our world, calling to task those who are unjust and speaking the message of peace and justice of God.
- We are to be teachers: Bonaventure believes that we are, as Christ was, called to be teachers through our preaching the Good News of God. Exemplified in the preaching good news to the poor, this characteristic of the mission of Christ is important today. We read that, “Now it is said that he [Christ] is to preach this good news especially to the poor, because he began by preaching to the poor.” So too, we are called to teach the world that God’s favor is indeed with the poor and those who work for justice — God has a ‘preferential option,’ we might say, for the poor.
- We are to be restorers: Christ forgave sinners and healed humanity from, as Bonaventure influenced by Augustine says, “the evil of original sin.” We too are called to “give sight to the blind,” through forgiveness in our daily lives. Those who sin are like the blind, unable to see clearly the way one should walk. Our love, following Christ, must be the source of our engagement with others, offering forgiveness and understanding instead of hostility and retribution.
- We are to be rewarders: Not seeking the reward, but offering our selves in relationship with others. Christ is said to reward those who live in the Spirit, following the will of the Father. Christ most perfectly followed the Father’s will in his service to the poor, teaching, healing and forgiving. So too, we are baptized to do likewise.
While imperfect in many ways, Bonaventure’s take on the mission of Christ as proclaimed in the Gospel of Luke offers us some wisdom on which to reflect. How is it that we can live more like Christ in following the mission we were baptized into?