3 EPIPHANY - C- 16 LUKE 4. 14-21
“Jesus filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee…” Saint Luke has Jesus beginning his earthly ministry at or near his hometown of Nazareth following his baptism by John in the Jordan and his forty days of preparation in the wilderness. The Spirit of God is upon him. It descended upon him at his baptism and led him into the wilderness where he was tempted by Satan to give up his divine mission by switching allegiances, which for our sake, thanks be to God, He refused to do.
The Spirit which he received at baptism becomes the ruling force in his whole ministry. The same Spirit now rests upon him as he reads from the prophet Isaiah in his hometown synagogue. Luke presents Jesus as a faithful Jew. It is his custom to attend synagogue worship. Laymen were permitted to read from the scriptures and to make a comment on the reading if they chose to do so, as did Nehemiah and the scribe in today’s first lesson.
The portion of Isaiah that Jesus read on this day was a well know passage that contained a Messianic prophecy. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
Jesus’ comment, “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” both shocked and amazed those who were present. They were not prepared for such a revelation especially coming from one they thought they knew from childhood. Christ seemed to be implying that he was Messiah, the anointed one, and the long awaited Day of the Lord had now come as announced in his commentary.
Jesus did go on to preach good news to those who had ears to hear; to both the poor and rich alike. He did perform many miracles of healing, including the giving of sight to the blind. He taught about the kingdom of God and what one had to do to enter it. He saw himself fulfilling Isaiah’s servant Messiah, who came not to inflict punishment, but to bring God’s love and mercy to all.
The Incarnation was the “acceptable time.” In Jesus the Old Testament prophecies concerning Messiah were fulfilled. But not everybody saw it that way then, nor do they see it that way now.
The reality is that the poor and homeless fill our streets, our prisons are over crowded and we are building more, and the world is coming apart country by country as refugees continue to flee war and oppression seeking asylum in other parts of the world and straining the limited resources of those countries that have openly received them.
Did Jesus somehow fail in his mission? Was it a mistake to announce that Isaiah’s prophecy had been fulfilled in this reading by Jesus? Some would say so based on the condition of our world today.
But did Jesus really fail or is it in the way we expect the world to be because of his coming? The Jews of Jesus’ day had their own expectations of what God’s Messiah would be like and the things that he would do to free God’s people from Roman rule. Their Messiah would reunite the twelve tribes and Israel would be a great nation once again ruled by one like David where peace and prosperity would reign.
Jesus of Nazareth, however, did not fill the bill. He did not fulfill their expectations as a military and political leader. He was not what they were looking for in a Messiah. Jesus taught about the kingdom of God and what God expected of his people, an expectation that long preceded Christ’ coming into the world. The world would be, could be a different place if only Israel would be what God called them to be - a light that reflected the Glory of God and drew all men to Him.
What about us? Does Jesus fulfill our expectations of God? Do we look at the world around us and see only suffering and death, war, destruction and oppression? Does our faith extend only to what we expect God to do and nothing to do with what God expects us to be and do?
Or do we, through the eyes of faith, see God’s hand at work in the world about us? Do we discern through the teachings of Jesus that we, as God’s new Israel, have been called to bring light to a world shrouded in darkness by proclaiming the good news of Christ’ salvation, by imitating his servant ministry by bringing the good news of God’s love and mercy to all, so that the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works and be drawn to Him. Is this not our vocation as the Body of Christ?
If we follow in Jesus’ steps from that early synagogue worship service to the hills of Galilee, on the road to Jerusalem, and the way of the cross, we discover that suffering is not God’s will. Life in the face of suffering is God’s will; courage in the face of fear, Faith in the face of doubt and abandonment, Hope in the face of hopelessness; Love in the face of hatred.
We are all in the need of healing; healing of heart and mind. We are all in need of freedom from our attitudes and outlook on life. And we all need hope for the beginning of each new day. In the deeper sense the entire ministry of Jesus produces a salvation which releases mankind from the forces which oppress him, whatever they may be. His presence brings salvation, release, freedom, and peace even in the midst of a world seemingly gone mad and bent on self-destruction.
With Christ the “prophecy” is fulfilled in you and me, and in all who receive Him as Lord of Life. Jesus came to give us life and to give it more abundantly by renewing a right spirit within us by giving us the gift of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that descended upon him at his baptism, that sustained him in the wilderness, and became the driving force in his earthly life.
This same Spirit will lead us and guide us into all truth and along the path that God has called each of us to walk, so that together, as the community of Faith, Hope, and Love, we might become what God has called us to be - a light that reflects His Glory and draws all mankind to Him. AMEN+