3rd Sunday after Epiphany
January 24, 2016
Luke 4: 16-22 You can click on these links to open the reading in Oremus Bible Browser.
I wanted to read the whole passage because I want you to see the sequence from Jesus’ baptism through the time of testing in the wilderness and into the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Often the schedule of readings we follow chops things up and so you can lose the thread of the story.
So here are a couple of Bible scholar things to notice in these readings: Luke talks about the Holy Spirit a lot. If you remember the meeting between Mary and Elizabeth (back before Jesus was born), each woman was filled with the Holy Spirit when they met. Here Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus at this baptism and led him out into the wilderness. He was filled with the power of the Spirit when he returned.
The other thing to notice is Luke’s storytelling. In a few brief sentences, he casts the whole scene for us. “The eyes of all were fixed on him.” Can’t you just see the kind of attention he’s getting in his hometown as he returns. You could hear a pin drop. When he tells them that the scripture he’s read is being fulfilled right here, right now….well, you can just see the grandmas and Sunday school teachers nudging each other, “that’s our boy!”
This is Jesus’ manifesto, and it’s possible to measure everything else Luke will tell us about what Jesus says and does from this statement. The part about the year of the Lord’s favor actually comes from Leviticus; Jesus is editing Isaiah. He’s talking about the Year of Julbilee. In every seventh year, Hebrews are supposed to be released from debts and release their slaves – it is a Sabbath year. And after 49 years, comes a year in which everything begins again. Land reverts to its original owners, bonds and contracts are released, and the world begins anew. (Leviticus 25: 8-24).
So this is Jesus’ Good News. Through him those who are on the fringes – the ones no one wants to be – will be lifted up and freed from their affliction. The instruments of injustice that deny people their rights within communities will be wiped out and all people will be restored to the full dignity of their humanity. Even the land will be set free from misuse and abuse and restored to health through what God is bring about in Jesus. He is the anointed one, the one with the power of God’s love to restore earth and it’s people to the place God had envisioned for them all.
This is the beginning of setting the world to rights.
Well, it’s been 2000 years since Jesus’ manifesto and the world doesn’t look much different than it did when he sat down in that synagogue in Nazareth. The Middle East is still a hotbed of tribal religious warfare and tyrants still jail people for asking for their human rights. Food-borne diseases and new viruses threaten our health. The gap between the rich world and the poor world hasn’t gotten any smaller. Where is the good news for us?
It’s come, first of all, as God’s invitation to be here; God’s good news for our bad situation. Through our families’ traditions, through our longing for a home in the world, through our baptism and our own anointing, Jesus has been God’s invitation to a new life of our own. Our own good news is that God is at work in our lives and in the world to release us every day from fear, anxiety, shame, inadequacy, failure. We are restored through the power of God’s love to our full status as God’s own people, invited into fullness of life, and called Beloved. We have the freedom to love and serve because we have been loved. We were chosen and so we can’t lose the blessing, because God’s promise to love us is sealed with the love shown to us on the cross of Jesus. We have our personal good news through Jesus’ life and death and resurrection.
And that’s not all. There’s good news for the world as well, because through God’s chosen and anointed people the world changes. Through the love of Christians for God’s people and God’s world there have always been consciences pricked to minister to those in prison and without shelter, those who need healing and food. There have been believers who stood up for the rights of those who were shoved aside and ignored. Think about the hospitals and schools that were created by religious orders, the Civil Rights movement in our own country and the struggle for freedom led by churches in South Africa. So the good news is not just personal, it is our mission now as God’s Beloved to extend the love and good news in our own day; to fight injustice where we find it, to provide healing and health were it is needed, to live looking outward into the world which needs so desperately the good news we have. What will the Spirit of the Lord anoint you to do and be to bring the Good News?
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.