“Sent Out” (Isaiah 61:1-2)
There was a documentary on TV about the Renaissance, that period of awakening in the history of Europe when a fresh energy flooded into the culture and triggered off a whole new view of the world. The reason for it, as the show presented, was a discovery of certain writings, wisdoms and ideas from the past that had been there all along but had lain hidden and buried. What got civilization moving again was the re-emergence of this underground current which registered in people as a kind of summons, a pull into the future. It was as if from this hidden spring they had heard a call and began to follow, as if being sent down a new road.
I pick up on this notion of being sent, this occurrence whereby something inside grabs hold and pulls a person in a new direction – because it’s just the kind of thing that happened to the prophet Isaiah. One day he wakes up and senses some tug on his soul. He recognizes it as The Spirit of God. He experiences it not just as warm feeling, but as a push, a prod, an energy sending him out. And in his memorable words he senses “being sent to bring good news to the poor and lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom to prisoners, to comfort all who mourn, to announce a year of favor from the Lord.”It’s that same pattern, something sleeping inside waking up, grabbing hold, and propelling a person down some new road – in Isaiah’s case, the road of liberation of the oppressed. This scene is a visual of Isaiah responding to a call, a vocation.
In the gospels the apostles get caught up in this same kind of momentum. They have been walking with Jesus, listening to his words, seeing all the healing things he’s been doing, and taking in his very person. At a certain juncture, all this shifts and gets transformed into what you could call a sending-energy, being sent out to start doing as their Lord has been doing. This energy, half-awake inside them, comes out its slumber and begins to move them along.
The story of St. Vincent de Paul whose feast we celebrate this week follows much the same plot line. He’s someone on a path, being productive enough, but not yet alive to the life forces running deeper within him. A few circumstances come together, centered around his work out in the country with the rural poor. Then over some months that inner something begins to rise up and propel him forward. In fact it’s the very words of Isaiah, now quoted by Luke, that provide the catalyst. Putting language onto Vincent’s inner experience, they wake up this energy that has been sleeping inside, catch hold, and move him out. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me and is sending me to bring the good news to the poor and neglected.” It becomes his life’s motto, his statement of purpose.
Seeing this pattern at work is an occasion for each of us to look for its operation in our own lives. Can you think back to a time when the pull of some greater purpose started to register in you? Can you recall a before and after – when you were moving along at an accustomed pace, but then something caught you up and took you in a new and more generous, gospel-centered direction?
I think of a middle-aged woman looking for something to do with her time who went to a Vincent de Paul Society meeting. Not really knowing what she was getting into, she started to make those home visits to people who needed help. Stepping into this world which was foreign to her, something inside began to stir. In our beginning imagery, she felt herself being “Sent,” sent out to bring goodness. Or as Jesus would say, to deliver the good news that our God is the God of compassionate and abundant love and that this flows through the loving actions of God’s people.
Every believer’s story is different but in some form touches back on this inner pattern. Something slumbering inside wakes up and sends us out. Something underneath comes to the surface and moves us forward. Something calls.
It’s Vincent de Paul’s experience and that of all the people who would listen for and respond to that inner voice — God’s Spirit sending us out with word and deed to spread God’s healing news of love and compassion.