When that great committee that decided what lessons we would read on various Sundays got together, it must have been it must have been a great challenge to figure out what to put in and leave out – we want scripture to be read in church, but we don’t
want too much scripture to be read in church…
Today’s reading forms a nice little nugget, but without some context its meaning is unclear. This reading is a pivot point in Luke’s narrative. Just a few paragraphs before today’s starting point, Jesus is baptized and then immediately he faces temptation. And then, off he goes for a little time at home…
But this is not rest time at home. For in Luke’s rendition, this is the middle chunk of the story – this point in Luke’s story begins Jesus’ public ministry. Today’s passage finds Jesus visiting the home town synagogue and folks who know him by family now must learn to know him as Messiah. Jesus of Nazareth is becoming Jesus the marked one – that is Jesus Christ.
If you remember the baptism story, it concludes with the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus. Though we have not read that for a few weeks, it would be fresh in the minds of Luke’s audience. So, when Luke reminds us that Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit, he is reminding us of the baptism events. It would seem like a small detail, but in Luke, there are no small details. This is a new, more power-filled Jesus. In today’s marketing jargon, Luke is giving us Hyper-Jesus.
Luke doesn’t just leave it at that – as if to underscore the point, Jesus goes to the synagogue and is given a chance to read. Isaiah happens to be the chosen scroll and Jesus happens to go to the part that begins: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…”
Any chance we can miss the point? Jesus is baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit, comes to Galilee filled with the Holy Spirit and then reads from Isaiah that the Spirit of the Lord is upon him. Isaiah is, of course, referring to himself, but Luke is placing Jesus right beside Isaiah – a major Profit… a person who can speak for God. In this short passage, Luke is transforming Jesus before our eyes.
We know that Luke’s Gospel has a particular dedication to those who are poor and powerless – scholars call it the preferential option for the poor. That is a clinical way of saying that, unlike our world which has great affection for those who are fabulously wealthy, in Jesus’ world, the Kingdom of God, the greatest affection is reserved for those who are powerless, vulnerable, broke.
So Luke is giving us a big foretaste of what is to come in the public ministry – good news will be given to the poor, freedom will be given to those in prison, vision will be restored to those who are blind, and release will be given to the oppressed. All these good things are promised to those who are basically the dregs of Galilean society. If you think ahead, you’ll see that this is exactly what is to come to pass. We’ll hear the same list of priorities, more or less, in the Sermon on the Mount. You’ll also notice that the list lacks anything for the comfortable and powerful.
Things start off well enough. Jesus reads from Isaiah, says that today this scripture is fulfilled, sits down, and everyone admires him. That is where the reading today ends – but just as you have to know what comes before the reading to understand the implications, you also have to have some idea of what comes next.
I suspect the reason the mood in the synagogue is so good is that it takes a bit of time for Jesus’ message to sink in. There is, after all, great comfort in scripture as long as you don’t pay too much attention. But if you dig in a bit, the comfort is replaced by challenge. If the poor and needy are given what they need, if the powerless are lifted up, where will that leave me? If God loves “them” so much, what about me?
We struggle, I struggle, with the challenge of following Jesus. Jesus does not come to make things nice. Jesus comes to comfort the afflicted, but at the same time Jesus comes to afflict the comfortable. Jesus is a revolutionary.
If we continued reading past the end of this morning’s reading, within a few paragraphs we find the once-adoring crowd completely turning on Jesus. They love him right up until they hate him. They love him right up until they understand what he is saying. The comfort of some in our society is closely linked with the discomfort of others.
For those of us who live in comfort, the fulfilling of Isaiah’s prophecy is good news in the sense that it’s the Gospel, but it is also threatening. Our world will be shifted. The world of injustice will no longer do. God’s Kingdom is where we want to live. It is where our spirits are called – we just need to get our minds and bodies on board…
As Jesus begins his public ministry, he calls various people to follow him. Those who would follow me, he says, must leave self behind. Jesus calls people to leave their jobs, leave their families, even to leave their dead to bury the dead. This is not an easy call. Everyone around Jesus struggled – so it’s no surprise that we still struggle. In fact, if we didn’t struggle, it would mean that we are not following Jesus. Anybody who preaches an easy gospel is not preaching the Gospel.
We know what comes before and we know what comes after – in this portion we heard we get a good indication of our call: Bring good news to the poor. Release those who are imprisoned. Provide vision to the blind. Free the oppressed. Proclaim the Lord’s favor.
What does this mean? I don’t know. How do we do it? Again, I don’t know. Where do we start? That I do know. We start in prayer and we start in community. This business of following Jesus is a social business. In community, in church, in some form of congregation we consider how we can proclaim God’s love in word and, more importantly, in action.
And then, in the congregation of God’s children, we get about that action.