You Will Be My Witnesses

Mass for the Conferral of Confirmation – July 29, 2020

St. Mary – Derby, KS

Isaiah 61:1-3 abcd, 8c-9; Psalm 23; Acts 1:3-8; Luke 4:16-22a

1) Awaiting a Reply

This Gospel today is a classic. Jesus walks into his hometown of Nazareth and reads this prophecy from the book of Isaiah, the same one we heard in our first reading. And you think, “Oh, Jesus said ‘anoint’ and ‘Spirit of the Lord’ and that’s what happens tonight. Cool.” But it’s more than that. Jesus says, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” Well, what is fulfilled?

I think we’ve all had that experience where we are waiting to hear back from someone. For some of us, we remember the brutal waiting period between sending someone a letter and waiting to get a letter back; it could easily be a week between writing and hearing back! Or even in conversation, especially a difficult conversation: you say something, unsure what the other person will say, and desperately await a reply. Or when there was that girl you liked, and you started—you know, very indiscreetly—asking around hoping to hear that she liked you back. It is just our nature to eagerly wait to hear back, to wait for a reply.

When Jesus Christ walked into that synagogue in Nazareth, he read from a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. And what he reads is the mission of the one the Lord had promised would come, the mission of the anointed one, the Christ, the mashiach [Remember, “Christ” means “anointed one.” Christ isn’t Jesus’ last name. Christ means anointed. Jesus Christ, Yeshua hamashiach, Jesus the anointed one.] Just before this story, the Spirit came down upon Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan. There in the Jordan he was “anointed” by the Spirit. And in this Gospel today, he returns to Nazareth “in the power of the Spirit.” And he tells the people who were looking intently at him, listening attentively and with eager anticipation—a people who is waiting for the Lord’s anointed to come, waiting for this specific response from the Lord—“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. Today, today this passage is fulfilled in your hearing. The reply, the response you’ve been waiting for is here.”

2) Well, What Exactly Was Jesus Doing?

And that’s nice. “Jesus fulfills a prophecy.” Classic. “Jesus comes as the response, the reply people were waiting for.” How pious. But what exactly is Jesus doing? People have been asking for a reply from God, asking God to do something, and God has been promising to do something, the prophets keep telling people that God is going to do something? But what? What is Jesus supposed to do? For what is Jesus anointed? As “good Catholics,” we’re kind of oblivious to why the people were waiting for the Messiah, for Jesus.

What’s the first part of the Mass? Anyone? Sign of the cross? Nope. The entrance song? Nope. Walking in? Kinda. GATHERING. The very first thing we do at Mass is we gather. This is the mission of Jesus! It is a great gathering mission.

In the beginning, humanity lived in perfect friendship with God, but then it all fell apart. People started scattering. There was division between man and woman, brothers started fighting and killing one another, people started to break-off and do their own thing. The story of the tower of Babel—do we remember that one?—the people are scattered! And we do this too. This happens in our families, when you fight with your parents or your siblings. You fight with your friends and then you “scatter”: you don’t talk to each other for days or weeks. Look at our world today, lord—no matter how hard we try, there is just constant scattering, division.

And so with all of this division, as people continued to scatter, God began a great mission of gathering his people back to himself. He began with Noah and his family; Abraham and his tribe; Moses gathered the twelve tribes into a nation; David’s kingdom began to gather internationally. God began to gather his people back to himself.

And so why does Jesus come? “To die for our sins.” Yes! Sure. But more specifically, Jesus—as the anointed one, as the mashiach—brings to fulfillment the mission God had begun thousands of years before. The mission that Jesus is anointed for, the mission the Spirit anoints him for, is to put an end to scattering and division and death, and to gather God’s people back to himself. Jesus didn’t come to teach us better rules and commandments, he didn’t come to make the world a perfect place—he did that, but that’s not why he came. Jesus came to carry out the mission of gathering.

Look at what Jesus does! Jesus doesn’t say, “Follow all my rules and one day you get to go to heaven!” No. Jesus says, time and time again, “Come, follow me.” People follow Jesus, great crowds follow him—Jesus gathers a people to himself.

3) We Carry On the Mission!

And if you’re smart, you will say, “Well, Jesus left. Where is ol’ Jesus now? Jesus kinda floated off and abandoned the mission,” right? And if you’re really smart, you’re asking, “What does this have to do with Confirmation??”

In that second reading, that’s what the disciples were asking. “When they had gathered together, they asked him they asked, ‘Lord, are you going to restore the Kingdom now?” Jesus keeps talking about how he is going away, leaving, and so they’re asking, “So are you going to accomplish your mission? Or are you going to abandon it?” And what does Jesus tell them? He says, “No. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Jesus is saying that we carry on his mission. But we don’t do it alone! We do it with the power of the Holy Spirit! We are anointed! Just like Jesus, we are anointed! Just like the apostles at Pentecost, we are anointed!

If you look in the Old Testament, why are people anointed? Why do we anoint you here today? Why do I need to smear this smelly oil on your head? People were anointed for many reasons. But one reason was to show that that person had been claimed for a specific role within the community! Think of David, how Samuel called his father and all of his brothers together, and put David in the middle of them and anointed him with oil; a symbol that he had been chosen for the role of king. People are anointed for a distinct role within the community!

The prophets said that the Messiah, the Christ, would not be the only one to be anointed by the Spirit; the Spirit would be given to the whole messianic people (c.f., Ezek 36:25-27; Joel 1:33-34)! And so today you are anointed with the Sacred Chrism, with this special smelling oil, for a specific and distinct role within the Christian community, and within the community of the whole world as well! And what is that role? Why do we take you and put you in the middle of your fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters? You are anointed for the purpose of carrying on the mission of Jesus Christ! And what is that mission? To gather God’s people back to himself. Or, as we say now, to Evangelize. With this special smelling oil, you are anointed to be the aroma, the smell of Jesus Christ in the world. With this anointing, you are Christified, you are anointed to carry on the mission of Jesus Christ! You are a “Christ-ian,” you are “anointed.”

As Christians, as Catholics, we do not exist, our job, why we are here—it isn’t to pray, or to receive the Eucharist, or to go to heaven, or to feel better (as good and important as those are!), no. We exist to carry on the mission of Jesus Christ. You all probably know people that don’t believe in Jesus anymore, friends that don’t believe. You know people that doubt the faith, that don’t really think it is important. You all probably have friends like that. Maybe you have parents that doubt the faith or don’t think it’s important. You are the one sent to carry out Jesus mission of gathering them back. And this sacrament of Confirmation prepares and equips you to do that.

4) A Great Flow of People

And I know how this sounds. It can sound scary. “I’m too young. I’m just a kid!” A classic excuse. A lot of people in the Bible, when God called them, they tried that excuse. And what did God tell them, “Don’t say you’re too young.” Being Christian, being Confirmed in the Spirit, isn’t for you—it’s for others. Being Christian is being called to participate in the life of Jesus Christ, and that means to participate in his mission.

Remember: Jesus Christ comes and says that he is the response that people have been waiting for! People are longing, desperately longing to hear from God, to hear a response from God. And God is not going to appear to them sitting on a cloud, or anything like that. He sends you. You are the ones anointed with the Spirit, the ones that will carry his message to the ends of the earth. You are the ones that can stand-up and say, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has anointed me to bring glad tidings. He has anointed me with power to be his witness.”

Do not be afraid. It seems daunting, like you have to go start yelling on street-corners. But no. It begins very simply. Simon and Andrew, and those twelve, they left their homes and followed him. And they spoke of this man to their friends. They told other friends, and these in turn told other friends, and others again. This is how the first century passed, and these friends invaded the second century with their faith; at the same time they were invading the geographic world. They reached Spain and even all the way to India during the second century. Then those of the second century told others who lived after them, and these told others after them. Like a great flow that grew wider and wider, like a river that grew fuller and fuller, like a mustard seed it grew bigger and bigger…and they ended up telling my mother–to my mother! And my mother told me when I was small.

This is why we are anointed, why each of you is confirmed today. You are sent, you are his witnesses.

And so I ask you, my dear young men and women, to please stand, and to profess your faith, the faith of the Church, the faith to which you will bear witness.

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