Everyone makes promises. Politicians promise us everything from affordable health insurance to job security. Products promise to make us more beautiful and to save us money. Partners promise that they will love one another forever. It is not uncommon for people to make promises. Sadly, it is also not uncommon when those promises are not kept. Each of us knows what it is like to have someone back out of a commitment that was made to us. If we are honest, we probably can name more than a few times when we also did not live up to the promises we have made.
God also makes promises. After the fall of Adam and Eve, he promised to send one who would defeat the cunning serpent. After the flood, he promised Noah that he would never destroy the earth again. He promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars of the sky. And he promised the people of Israel that he would send a Messiah to save them. Like us, God makes many promises. Unlike us, however, he keeps them all. God is faithful. If he says it, he will do it. There is no other word that is more worthy of our complete trust and confidence than is the word of God.
Today's first reading from the book of Nehemiah is an example of God's faithfulness. The land of Israel had been conquered and ravaged by invaders who carried many of the people off to exile in shackles. For many years. they lived in a foreign land unable to worship in the temple or to live in freedom. Though it seemed impossible, God promised to lead them back to their land and to re-establish them in the city of Jerusalem. The reading we heard was God's fulfillment of his promise. The people have finally been led back to their homeland and are about to rebuild their city. They are overcome with tears of joy as they hear God's word proclaimed in their native land by the priest, Ezra. He reminds them that it is not a day to be sad, but a day to rejoice because God has worked marvels for them. As they rebuild the city, they are to keep in mind how God was faithful to his word, and to remember that they could have confidence that he would continue to be faithful to all that he has said.
Though the Old Testament is full of stories of God's faithfulness to his people, the greatest example of that faithfulness is found in the person of Jesus Christ.
Last week, we heard the story of Jesus' first miracle. In today's reading from the gospel of Luke, we hear Jesus' first sermon. The text he chooses to speak on is from the book of the prophet Isaiah who foretells the coming of the Messiah as one upon whom God's Spirit would rest empowering him to lead captives into freedom, to bring sight to the blind and to proclaim the good news to the poor. In a statement which must have been a shock to those assembled to listen to him, Jesus tells them that he is the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy. He tells them straight out that he is the Messiah. In him, they were to find the fulfillment of all the promises God had made to the people.
Jesus does not only tell them he is the Messiah by his words. When he leaves the synagogue, he goes about performing the mighty works that Isaiah predicted. He heals the blind. He raises the dead. He preaches the good news of the Kingdom of God to the poor and casts out demons. Finally, he shows how great God's love for us is by freeing us from sin by his death on the cross and giving us the hope of everlasting life by rising from the dead. Whatever promises God made to the people of Israel, Jesus fulfilled them beyond anyone's expectation.
God's promises were not only made to the people of Israel nor to the people of Jesus' day. Those promises extend to us who continue to hear the good news proclaimed. God's offer of forgiveness of sins and salvation from evil are extended to us here today. All of us who have accepted Jesus' call to follow him know from first hand experience how faithful God is. We have received the strength he promised to offer us to resist temptation. We have received the peace he promised to give us during tumultuous periods of our life. And we have felt his presence by our side throughout the journey of our lives. We know that God's word is true not only because we have read about his mighty deeds centuries ago, but because we have experienced them for ourselves.
It is now up to us who have experienced the Father's love and mercy to bring them into the world. We have been chosen by the Father to make sure that his promises are kept. It is up to us now to show that God cares for the poor by sharing our food with them. It is up to us to show that God cares for captives by visiting them in prison. It is up to us now to show that God has not forgotten the sick by visiting them in the hospital or in their homes. Saint Theresa wrote that God has no hands now but ours and no feet but ours. Saint Paul makes much the same point in today's second reading when he tells us that we are the Body of Christ bringing not only the good news of the Kingdom of God but the works of Jesus into the lives of those we meet.
God is using us now to fulfill the promise of salvation he has extended to all people of every generation. It is up to us by the power of his Spirit to make sure that that promise is not an empty one.