We call the books of Jesus' life and message "the Gospels." Gospel means good news.
But I've heard a complaint from Catholics more than once: that it isn't fair that we, who hear the "good news" and know the commandments, are held responsible for obeying them - while other people just live their lives. Like somehow it would be better if we didn't know about the teachings of Jesus passed down through the Church - then we wouldn't know any better.
I respond to that complaint that this is called the Good News for a reason. Jesus came to offer us more than just a bunch of rules that we struggle to follow. He came to give us freedom, freedom from slavery to sin - but it is also a freedom to live according to God's will.
Knowing God sets us free - but we must live that freedom.
In our first reading, we hear part of the story of the priest Ezra. Ezra is a leader of the people of Judah who returned to their home after being exiled in Babylon. When they return, Jerusalem is in ruins. The Temple is destroyed and the walls of the city are in no shape to stop any threat. So the people work to rebuild their home, but there is a spiritual rebuilding that has to happen as well.
In the ruins of the Temple, someone finds a copy of the Torah - the first five books of the Bible. Ezra gathers all the people together and, from dawn to noon, he reads it to them. The people hear the words of the Torah and they weep.
They weep because they are able to see how far from the Lord's law they are. How different their lives are from what God calls them to be. But Ezra reassures them: "Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength!”
Rejoice because you know God’s law. Rejoice because you are His people. Rejoice because He calls you to live for Him. God's law may seem like a burden, but it is actually the path to true freedom.
In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus proclaims a passage from the prophet Isaiah and then gives a short, powerful sermon. He reads to the people in the synagogue:
"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,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord."
and then says to them: "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing."
Jesus had read to them the amazing things that would happen when the Messiah came - and then told them that the time had come. The promises were fulfilled. Jesus had come in the power of the Holy Spirit to bring the good news, healing and freedom.
Sometimes we lose sight of that good news. We become to focused on "what we're supposed to do" rather than the great gift that God has given us.
It is a gift to receive forgiveness from our sins. It is a gift to be set free from the slavery of selfish desires. It is a gift to be able to love others as God loves us.
The commandments of God, far from binding us and taking away our freedom or happiness, bring us to what makes us truly free and happy - God Himself.
Let us live out that freedom.