One of the aspects of this reading that I enjoy so much is that it is very descriptive. Can’t you just see this scene as it unfolds? Jesus is a bit older by the time this story takes place. He’s a good Jewish boy who has returned home for the sabbath. And, as he probably had done so often, he went to services at the synagogue (maybe even with his mom and dad). This was pretty exciting. Word had already started to get around that Jesus, the hometown boy, was starting to make a name for himself. He stood up to read from the scroll. This wasn’t something just anyone did or could do. Remember, not a lot of people during Jesus’ time could actually read. So, he opens up the scroll and sees it is from the prophet Isaiah. Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. He was filled with the Holy Spirit, after all. And he could have read anything he wanted to from the prophet Isaiah. Anything at all. But instead he chooses this: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Here’s what’s interesting about what Jesus read: it doesn’t read like that. It isn’t written in that order. In fact, if you looked up in Isaiah what Jesus said in this Luke reading for today, you would find it in this order: Isaiah 61:1, Isaiah 58:6, and Isaiah 61:2. Then, Jesus rolls the scroll back up, sits down, gives the shortest sermon ever by saying “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” and then we’re done. I think it was Jesus’ version of a mic drop.
I have to think that the people in the synagogue probably just continued to stare at Jesus. They were probably giving him that “what in the world are you talking about stare.” We all have a version of that stare. Maybe it was a mix of confusion, anger, joy, and anticipation. Do those that were gathered understand what just took place? Do we? And here’s the thing, what Jesus said in his synagogue all those years ago, it still matters. And when we hear it today, it matters. What Jesus said is crucial “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And that today that Jesus speaks of is a never ending today. So (and stick with me here) when Jesus first said it, it was that day. And when it was said again some 300 years later (or something) it mattered on that day. When you first heard this scripture, it was that day and it mattered. And now, we’re here, in today, and it matters still. I know that can be kind of confusing. But Jesus is just trying to emphasize that his good news, his prophecy and his promise is never ending.
At the same time, one might wonder if this is good news. If you are rich, and trust me, most of us in this room are rich, and the Jesus is bringing good news to the poor, what does that mean for us? And if Jesus is proclaiming release to the captive, then what does that mean for those people who have imprisoned those in mind, body, or spirit? Letting the oppressed go free changes power structure and people always struggle with that. And then Jesus says this is all happening because today, we heard it as such. Everything that Jesus said should actually give pause to those in power, including us. Because what Jesus is saying is that everything we’ve known, everything we are, everything we thought was right has been turned upside down. Power will come from weakness. The poor will be rich. The oppressed and blind will now become fully integrated members of society. Maybe this doesn’t leave you unsettled. Because maybe you don’t think of yourself as rich, or an oppressor, or a someone who enslaves someone else.
But, Jesus is all about justice, righteousness, and mercy. So, if we were to put this writing from Isaiah, the words that Jesus spoke, into current context Jesus might say something like this: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has called me to bring good news to the poor and those who are told they are poor and those who are made to feel poor. I will bring good news to those who receive welfare, food stamps, and government assistance. You are valued.” Or what about this: “The Spirit of the Lord has sent me to proclaim that there is no such thing as illegal or undocumented. Everyone is valued in my sight.” Well now! That’s a little different, isn’t it? I know what you’re thinking “stay in your own lane, Pastor. Don’t get too political.” But, when are we going to realize that Jesus was political? We will hear more from this scripture next week, but as soon as Jesus said all of this, the townspeople (reminder, from his own hometown) wanted to throw him off a cliff. And they tried. Sure, justice and righteousness should anger us. But injustice and corruption should vault us into action. In the hearing of these words today, we too should be so filled with the Spirit that we act on Jesus’ words.
I’ve said this before, but being a Christian and ultimately, being a disciple isn’t just in name only. This is a way of life; a call to action. Injustice should anger us. Corruption should anger us. Poverty, hunger, people dying from preventable disease, dirty drinking water, and on and on, it should all anger us. Because this is not the world that Christ desires. We cannot rest on our laurels and hope that someone else will do the work of Christ for us. We cannot tell people “I’m a Christian” and then do nothing to act on that. Because we love Christ and Christ loves us, the hurts of the world might and should hurt us too. But it’s too easy to sit back and do nothing. Because if we sit back and do nothing, our status in life isn’t challenged. Our long held beliefs aren’t challenged. We aren’t forced to look at our choices and justify them. But, if God sees us all as equals, and if all is equal in God’s kingdom, then what does it matter? There is no first class heaven. That’s not how it works.
Scripture has been fulfilled today in your hearing. This means that Christ is calling you to listen and answer the world’s cries. And I get it. The pain of the world is almost too much to bear. We cannot solve all the world’s problems by ourselves. But we don’t need to. The world isn’t looking for a new savior, we already have one of those. Instead, the world is looking for and needing disciples who take seriously the sacrifice the savior made for all people. You don’t have to make a difference for the whole world, but just the world around you. We all know that one small ripple can make a huge effect. I don’t want to assume that Jesus forgot anything or that Isaiah forgot anything. But, I wonder if we need to add a little asterisk or something to this reading. Perhaps Jesus should have said “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing and in your doing.” The only Bible some people ever read may be you. The only glimpse of God people ever see may be you. The only love of Christ that people experience may be from you. Challenge yourself such that your words, tasks, and actions answer the call. God’s grace, and the Holy Spirit are upon you to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and to ensure freedom to the oppressed. It’s no small task. But our God is no small God!