Luke 4: 14-21
An extraordinary Sabbath day started out like any other day, a day for Jewish people to gather in synagogue and worship. Per Jewish custom, worshipers have engaged in prayer, heard the law read, and are now at the point of their synagogue service when a volunteer reads from the prophets. Only today, an extraordinary worshiper volunteered. Though the scroll of Isaiah was given to him, Jesus chooses what verses to read from the scripture. The Messianic text Jesus reads from Isaiah 58:6 and Isaiah 61: 1-2 takes place in the context of post-exilic Isaiah when the people are returning from captivity with a spirit of hopefulness. The words are profoundly powerful- the words offer people a better way. Then Jesus sits down, in Jewish custom once the speaker sits down that cues the worshipers in to begin to engage in the tradition of Midrash, in sacred conversation. The speaker would apply the text read from prophets, to the religious, political, and ethnics of the day. All eyes are fixed on Jesus. Where will he go with this prophetic text? He says, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus identifies his purpose in one of the shortest sermons ever recorded. What does this mean for Jesus to say this has been fulfilled today? Through such words, Jesus states very clearly why he has come to be among the people.
Theologian and author, Karoline Lewis observes, “Jesus’ sermon in his hometown of Nazareth is not only a life-changing sermon; it is a life-changing act. God has now entered the world as flesh so that no human can be overlooked. No one can be left in a place of oppression. No one is unworthy of God’s good news.” Jesus’ mission statement is at the core of liberation theology–the belief that Jesus in fact came to the world to bring justice, peace, and reconciliation. Throughout the rest of Luke’s gospel, Jesus’ purpose of fulfilling the scripture from Isaiah continues. He proclaims through his words and actions that good news will be brought to the poor, he heals the blinds, and eats with the outcast. Jesus proclaims a ministry of liberation and justice, which cannot wait any longer and has a strong sense of urgency. His purpose was fulfilled and continues to be fulfilled in Jesus’ life and ministry. Christ’s purpose and reason for being very clearly proclaims to the masses that now is always the time to release the captives, give sight to the blind, free the oppressed, proclaim year of the Lord’s favor.
Imagine being in the crowd and hearing Jesus’ purpose proclaimed for the first time. How might you respond? Ruth Ann Reese, professor of New Testament at Asbury seminary writes, “We can imagine a hometown congregation filled with all the characters of the village- rich and poor, seeing and blind, oppressed and oppressor- and wonder what this liberation looked like for them. Did they anticipate the good news would come first to the poor, the prisoner, and the oppressed? Or did they think it would come first for those with inside connections, the rich, and the religious? Yet, Jesus offers them good news. Will they hear it and receive it as good news to be shared with all, especially the vulnerable? Or will they hear it and hope that is a message for them alone?” How do we hear Jesus’ declaration of his mission statement, ministry goals, and ultimate purpose of choosing to come among us in such a messy world, today?
The Public Religion Research Center recently surveyed church goers and discovered that many churchgoers fear the present, as a collective group, we fear today. The survey revealed church goers have high levels of anxiety and nostalgia. According to the survey, people who go to church have nostalgia and some might even believe that “our best days are behind us.’ Several believe that the future of society and future of church is bleak. Perhaps our added anxiety comes from living in a world, among a culture which is such a place of much unrest. Perhaps it is because we live in a messy world and we are not certain what possibilities the future may hold. Perhaps, but friends, if we are focusing on Jesus’ mission statement, we are called to embrace the power and importance of today. Today is not merely a space to mourn the loss of the past and fear what we cannot imagine. Today is a space to grow in our faith, to engage in creative ministry, to proclaim hope, and to listen for new ways the Spirit might be revealing ideas in our midst.
Theologian and author Diana Butler- Bass speaks of the power of today. She points out that the word, ‘today’ is a “Deeply dangerous spiritual reality- because today insists that we lay aside both our memories and dreams to embrace fully the moment of now. The past romanticizes the work of our ancestors; the future scans the horizons of our descendants and depends on them to fix everything. But “today” places us in the midst of the sacred drama, reminding us that we are actors and agents in God’s desire work for the world. ‘Today’ is the most radical thing Jesus ever said.”
What is the Spirit saying to us in this moment; today on January 27th 2019? How do we understand the text Jesus reads from Isaiah as being fulfilled when so much suffering exists in the world? Who are the poor among us who need to hear the good news? Who are the oppressed among us who need to be freed? How is Jesus still bringing good news to the poor, today, proclaiming freedom to oppressed, today, bringing sight and renewed vision where darkness has too long prevailed, today? How can we response to the call to be among those who follow to join in his work of healing, liberation, and grace? We are called to continually strive to follow Jesus’ mission “today.” And today, Jesus’ mission remains the same.
Friends, there is an immediacy to Jesus’ mission, there is an immediacy given to Jesus’ first public prophetic word, today, and too often the prophetic word is followed by those who might answer, well maybe tomorrow or let’s simply wait. History is full of examples of how people of the faith have been tragically too slow to embrace the cries of the prophets or the opportunities to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.
So how can we emulate Jesus’ mission statement, today? Perhaps we do so a little bit every day. Small acts of kindness can go a long way. We can befriend those who are poor in spirit or those who are lonely through compassionate conversation. Through partnerships with organizations like International Justice Mission, we can help captives be set free. We can actively speak out against injustices in the world. During most recent government shutdown, as federal workers were furloughed, others sought out ways to help offer support. From free meals to collecting gas and VISA gift cards, people were willing to help.
How might we push through feelings that we can’t even begin to try to follow Jesus’ mission? Another lectionary text for today includes 1 Corinthians 12, and verses 24-26, “But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” Each member of the body has different gifts and we don’t have to try to live out Jesus’ mission alone. Some among us ask the hard questions of society, some among us are patient listeners, some are able to see both sides of every disagreement, some are called to work to share compassion in the justice system, others are teachers or mentors of children, and each of us have spiritual gifts. We not only have examples in the Gospels of ways Jesus lives out his mission, we never have to try to live out Jesus’ mission statement alone. When one person suffers, we all suffer together, and when one rejoices, we all rejoice together. So when one oppressed person is freed and treated with welcomed dignity and given a place at the table, the body of Christ is stronger. To be so moved by the Spirit is a cause for celebration because it demonstrates the reconciliation won for us in Christ, the Scripture fulfilled in our hearing.
Friends, Jesus is very clear what his mission and purpose is in today’s scripture. His concise sermon remains as clear, poignant, and urgent as ever. Today, what we need is present in Christ. Luke’s gospel continues to show ways Jesus lived out his mission statement. The pages of Luke’s gospel are filled with Jesus teaching, interacting with, and sharing good news with the poor in body or in spirit. Luke’s Gospel emphasizes God’s transforming favor for the material poor. The pages are filled with countless examples of Jesus giving sight to the blind and healing people in body and circumstance and of Jesus living out his mission.
How might we strive to better follow Jesus’ example and Jesus’ mission statement–today? Amen.