BY RACHEL STOTT
DAY 3: Let Us Free One Another | 3rd Sunday of Advent | 12.17.17
Take a look at the readings for today here. For some background on this Sunday’s readings from Loyola Press Sunday Connection, click here. Today’s reflection is based on the first reading. For an overview and introduction of the reflections for all nine nights, go here.
- Isaiah 61: 1-11. The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me.
- Luke 1:46-54. My soul rejoices in my God.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24. Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks.
- John 1:6-8, 19-28. John the Baptist’s Testimony to Himself
“To proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners.”
In his magnificent book, Tattoos on the Heart, Greg Boyle embodies the anointed one who sets people free. The title of the book comes from an encounter he has with a homie named Sharkey. He tells of being exasperated by Sharkey and Greg thinks he perhaps has been too hard on him. He changes strategy: he tries to “catch (Sharkey) in the act of doing something good.” Greg tells him how heroic he is and “how the courage he now exhibits in transforming his life far surpasses that hollow “bravery” of his barrio past. He tells him he is a giant among men.” He means it. The reaction is breathtaking. Sharkey, Greg writes, seems “to be thrown off balance by all this and silently stares at (me). Then he says, “Damn, G…I’m gonna tattoo that on my heart.”
These words set Sharkey free. Greg acknowledges that Sharkey is more than his past as a gang member. He is more than the sum of his past mistakes. He sees a man transformed, not a just a sinner. He sees a person created by our loving God. He sees one of God’s beloved and holds up a mirror for Sharkey to see this reality. A diadem, a symbol of royalty is placed upon his head, reminding him of his worth.
While his work with gang members does include many who have been incarcerated, physical prison walls are not the biggest problem gang members face. When Greg gives a homeboy or homegirl a glimpse of their true human goodness and worthiness, he frees them from the prison of shame and disgrace. He frees them from negativity and worthlessness. He helps them see themselves as God does: beloved. Who among us does not need this?
Israel at the time of this writing is back from exile. The temple is destroyed and the rebuilding is painful and slow. God sends the prophet not to remind them of their sins and struggles, but to give them hope and a vision of what God offers. A look into God’s dream for humanity.
“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me.” At baptism, we were anointed with chrism to take on this task of setting captives free, comforting those who mourn, healing the brokenhearted. Just as being a saint does not required us to be Mother Teresa, we don’t have to have dramatic stories of changing lives of gang members to unlock the prisons of those around us.
The opportunities are endless. In everyday life, we can show one another God’s view of us. Often this takes the form of helping someone reframe the way they see themselves or a situation. A look from God’s perspective. A spiritual reframing. The world around us sends so many signals that we are not enough: not smart enough, rich enough, successful enough. That we fall short.
Who in our lives needs to hear that they are loved beyond all comprehension? That this love is not earned; it cannot be lost. That this love is free. That God delights in them. That they are enough.
Notice and point out the goodness in others. Catch them doing something right. It takes listening and being willing to say something they can tattoo on their heart. Let us strive this Advent to free people in our lives and move us ever closer to the kingdom of God.
Rachel Stott is 49 and currently lives in Vienna, VA with her husband, Stephen Soulé and their 3 children: Aidan, Zoe and Natey. Family life is full and fun with 3 busy teenagers! Rachel earned her BA from Georgetown University and her Masters in Divinity from the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, CA. Throughout the years of raising her family, she has continued to pursue various ministries from teaching, to retreat work and parish programs. She is a cycle instructor and loves teaching at Cycle Chi in Vienna!