Just for this day
"Only today matters, only in my today I can make a difference".
Are you as fond as I have become of the Today program on BBC radio 4 over the years? I plan my morning around it. My alarm clock is set at 5:58 am so that I am awake for the beginning of the programme. The days I wake up later, I often catch up with some parts of it thanks to the wonderful app they developed few years ago – especially the ‘Thought of the Day’, “Today in Parliament”, and the main interview at 8:10 AM. You know that a news program is really good when it manages to retain your interest even during periods of the year when not much is happening. I love for example the production of the episodes at the end of December each year when they have guest editors who decide the main themes, the people to be interviewed and what questions to ask them. This past New Year’s Eve it was an absolute delight for me to listen to the episode in which the guest editor was Jane Goodall, the famous primatologist & UN Messenger of Peace. Her programme featured reports from Tanzania, looked at the links between poverty and climate change, explored how we can protect the environment. The final interview with her was exactly what I needed at the end of a such a challenging year – a breath of fresh hope.
There is a sense in which ‘today’, this day, the one we are living now, is the only reality, the only time which matters. True, the past has shaped us in ways that affect our present time, and we need to make some plans, some provisions for tomorrow, and for the more distant future – if I spend a month salary today, I will certainly be in trouble tomorrow! And yet, today, the here and now, is the only time that actually exists, since yesterday is gone and tomorrow is not yet. And there is something reassuring, steadying, and sometimes even elating in the start of each new day, especially with fresh coffee, fresh news, fresh hopes.
Of course, there are times in our lives when the yesterday weighs so heavily with anxiety or depression on us, or we are so worried about the morrow, that starting a new day can be exceedingly daunting. But the today, this day, remains a new beginning nonetheless, forces us to get out of bed, to remain on the move – and even if at first this particular day might not promise any excitement, any change, I can try to tackle it by little, manageable steps. Even during these times, the important thing is to keep going, one little step at the time.
“Today” is a key word in Scripture too, and it functions as a tipping point in the passage of Luke’s Gospel we have just read: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4.21). One thing which for sure can only happen today is this: hearing God speaking to us. We can never rely on the fact that we listened to God before, that we prayed him in the past, believed in him yesterday. In our relation with God only the today matters, makes a difference. This might seem unfair because it means that the labourer of the last hour receives the same salary as those who have worked since the beginning. But if you think about it, it is good news for all of us after all: it means that however reluctant or negligent we might have been in the past in our relation to God, if we do not close our hearts to him today, if we finally start paying attention to his words today, we get a fresh start, a clean slate, a rebooting, as if nothing had happened. What hope cannot we draw from hearing that even someone who spends his life cheating and stealing and has been condemned to the death penalty for this, can hear Jesus saying to him: “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23.43)?.
Scripture is an ancient book, but the Word of God, the voice of God can only be heard today. Our bibles might have stood dusty and unopened on the shelves of our homes for years, but the day we open them again, they never fail to speak to us, if only we open our hearts to them: “O that today you would listen to his voice!” says Psalm 95.7, which is echoed by Hebrews: “As long as [this day] is called today” you have time and opportunity to find “encouragement for each other” (Heb 3.13) thanks to the Word of God which is “living and active”, able to renew “the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (cf. Heb 4.12f).
I like to think that this is one of the meanings of the sentence of the Lord’s prayer that says: “Give us today our daily bread”. It certainly refers to the nourishment for the body, but also to the bread of life which is the Word of God. “Give us today a word that inspires us, that gives us hope, meaning. Give us a word in which we can be reached by God’s encouragement and comfort. Give us a word which can help us to overcome any past anxiety, any future worry, so that we can live this moment, this day, to the full”.
The scrolls of Scripture, especially of the Torah, were, and still are, the most venerated object in a synagogue. Indeed, when Jesus enters the synagogue of Nazareth, at first everyone’s attention is on the scroll given to him and from which he reads. At one point however there is a shift, which Luke emphasizes by a meticulous description of Jesus’ actions, and by the silence that falls on the congregation surrounding him at that moment: calmly, taking his time, “he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down” and the shift happens at this precise junction: “the eyes of all in the synagogue were [now] fixed on him” – the spotlight is not on the scrolls, on the letter of Scripture any more, but on the Word made flesh, who solemnly declares: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in you hearing”.
Whenever we gather here for our Sunday celebration of the eucharist, we re-enact the same scene: we have the procession with the Gospel, and all our eyes are on the physical book held high by the deacon. The book is honoured with incense, and at the end of the reading the deacon kisses it. But then it is discreetly and unceremoniously put on a stool - once the reading it completed the book ceases to be the center of the attention. That is the moment when we are invited to switch from our physical eyes to the eyes of our heart, and fix them on Jesus – and ask ourselves, what am I being told by God today?
This page of the Gospel, today, tells us one more thing – suggests an answer to the questions which I am sure have come to your minds by now. If what you say is true, why is it then that so often we read Scripture and do not hear anything? Why is it that so often we get distracted when we hear Scripture and even a bit bored? Why is it that so often we can’t even make sense of it?
Jesus today tells us that the good news is for the poor, the recovery of sight for the blind, the freedom for all those who are oppressed. I can rejoice in this good news only if I recognize where is the poverty, the blindness in my own life, only if I am honest with myself and with him about the things that oppress and depress me – if I become aware of my need to be visited by the Lord. We might have to keep up appearances with each other, but we should never do this in our prayer. There, let us dare to be needy, to rejoice in our infirmities, to be proud of our weaknesses, as the apostle Paul is never ashamed to do. It is thanks to this humble recognition that, as Isaiah says, “morning by morning”, in each today of our lives, the Lord will “waken my ear to listen as those who are taught” (Is 50.4) – and again give me the meaning, the strength, and sometimes even the joy I need, just for this day.