Shortly after I’d come to Elgin as a parish assistant, I realised that many of my compatriots living in that area were struggling because they didn’t speak English. Dealing with simple, everyday hurdles caused problems, as their inability to speak the language required massive hand signals or finding an interpreter. The solution seemed obvious: help them to learn English. So we did. The parish provided a free course of English to anyone interested. The response was huge. But within a few months the numbers were dramatically falling, to such an extent that the course was eventually cancelled due to lack of interest. Their initial enthusiasm was quenched when they realised there was no magic, effortless way of learning. Sadly it’s the same story with many human activities: just think about your own new year’s resolution.
To some extent we live in a strange world where excitement is its new religion. Entertainment, once reserved for weekends, holidays or feasts, nowadays is required or expected on a daily or even hourly basis. The cult of celebrities, presented as if they live a life of permanent excitement, involuntarily set unrealistic and unachievable expectations for many, particularly young people. By comparison many see their lives as dull, filled with uninspiring and boring chores and therefore worthless. Such dullness and perceived worthlessness are among many reasons pushing people towards alcohol, drug or sex abuse, because these falsely promise short-lived excitement.
Sadly the same approach seems to take hold in people’s relationships. They tend to last as long (or rather: as briefly) as it’s new and exciting. When infatuation and fascination die out (they always do), there’s nothing left to keep people together. Anything that requires great effort and is not instantly rewarded seems to be unattractive and unworthy, and subsequently disintegrates. People are becoming another dispensable good rather than loving and loved individuals.
In this a rather sad world of people giving easily up on other people or on time-consuming achievements, today’s first reading gives some hope. This is a beautiful announcement of God’s servant, appointed and sent to the world to make it a slightly happier place and to give people living here hope and justice. His mission was to be carried out in a gentle manner with patience and love, not by threats of punishment. Most importantly, the mission wouldn’t be terminated, only accomplished: ‘he will neither waver, nor be crushed until true justice is established on earth.’
In our sometimes sad world, where people’s worth seem to depend on their spending power, or their labour, or creation of excitement; in our sometimes sad world where people can be dumped as soon as they become useless, or where others give on them up because they don’t change quickly enough, it’s good to know that there’s God who never dumps anyone; that there’s God who never gives up on even the most hopeless individual; that there’s God whose only driving force to act is his desire for our happiness. That prophecy from our first reading has come to life in Jesus. He is the one about whom the prophet said: ‘I have appointed you as covenant of the people and light of the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to free captives from prison, and those who live in darkness from the dungeon.’ Jesus started fulfilling that mission locally in the waters of the river Jordan. But after his baptism of death and resurrection he has reached to end of the world. He is here for us to give hope to you and me, here and now.