“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.”
That is, the year when God brings all things back to right.
Jesus gives the scroll back to the attendant, sits down because that was the position from which people taught in those days. You would teach from a seated position.
Everybody’s eyes were on him. And Jesus said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
It goes over wonderfully. People are amazed. They say, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” Home town boy made has made the big time. Jesus words go over so well for two reasons, I think, one good and one not so good.
The first reason is that, deep down, whether we are wealthy or poor, I think we all have some kinds of good news that we desperately desire to hear. “The oncologist says my numbers are down.” “My boyfriend wants to talk with me, maybe work things out.” Good news.
Even though we have much greater freedom nowadays than people used to have in Jesus’ day—we have freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, we have the vote—nevertheless, I think we all suffer from one kind of captivity or another in our lives, from which we desperately wish we or one of our loved ones could be set free.
It’s good that we know those places and times when we need to hear good news, when we need to be set free. It reminds us of our need for God.
The people of Nazareth, however, have another reason for being pleased and amazed with Jesus’s words. It’s not so good. It’s that place inside of us that says, “Well, everyone is special, but I would like to feel a little EXTRA special, if I can get away with it. Every group is important, but we would like to feel that our group, our village, our town, our religion, our nation, our way of looking at the world is most important.
So maybe home town boy can bring some of them tourist dollars in to Nazareth. Maybe we could get some special consideration since we’re the place where he grew up. He did some deeds of power in Capernaum. Maybe he could do even more deeds of power here. Maybe he could put Capernaum in its place. Oh, Cana, you thought you were so great with that water into wine thing, well, look at what Jesus did here, in Nazareth. Put us on the map. Put us over the top. Nazareth is number one, Nazareth is number one!
(That’s why sports is such a good thing. We can get all of that out our systems, go and yell “We’re number one, We’re number one!” without hurting anybody.)
Jesus has to tell them that being number one is not the point. He says, “In the time of the prophet Elijah,
In the days when God had closed off the heavens and there hadn’t been any rain for three years, there were many widows in Israel, many of them starving. Elijah goes to none of them, but rather to a widow of Zarephath, in Sidon. Not Israel.
Fascinating story. Elijah asks her for a barley cake to eat. She says “I can’t give you any food. I don’t have enough for myself and my son. I’m going to make one more meal so that he and I can have a one last bite to eat before we starve to death. Elijah asks her to trust, and to share. “Make a little cake for me, and trust. She does. She shares even what little she has.
Her jar of barley doesn’t run out. Her jug of oil doesn’t run dry until the famine breaks.
Elijah does this for her, a foreigner, maybe a pagan.
In the days of Elisha, Elijah’s successor, there were many lepers in Israel, many people suffering from this awful disease that eats away your skin and fingers and limbs. It separates you from your family and neighbors and everyone you know. No one can touch you. You are so lonely, so lonely. Elisha heals none of the lepers in Israel, but instead heals Naaman the Syrian. A general in the Aramaean army, an enemy army, rich beyond description, who has attacked Israelite territory, who has taken Israelite slaves, kidnapped people from their villages and carried them off to his country. Even keeps an Israelite girl he stole from her home in his own house as a slave.
Elisha ignores the other lepers of Israel and instead heals him?
No wonder they want to throw Jesus off a cliff.
Jesus is saying that the way God’s power moves in the world shatters and explodes all of our standards and systems that say who’s the most important and who is not, who’s number one and who is not, who’s politically correct and who is not, who is pretty, shiny, righteous, and who is not.
Jesus is Lord of the Church, that is true. But the Church is not the Lord of Jesus. We do not control how God works. Jesus will act in ways, both within and outside the church that we do not see, understand, or approve of.
And that is wonderful news. Because Jesus comes to us, first, in the places where we are not important, not number one, not politically correct, not pretty, not shiny, not righteous. Jesus comes to us at the cross, at the depth of human cruelty and hateful brutality. Jesus brings God’s love to us there.
That is the beginning of the resurrection. That is the place where we begin to love, truly. Remember our second lesson? “Faith, hope and love abide, remain, dwell, go on, is present with us in the same way that a beloved grandparent is present with us, and everything is better. But the greatest of these is love.”
Beginning of love. Let me give you an example. In the month of February, our youth is going to be collecting sweatpants for the VA to distribute among homeless veterans. So watch for announcements, clean, new sweatpants. If we can swing it, we’d like for someone from the VA to speak with our youth about homelessness among veterans.
In the season of Lent, our Sunday School children will be collecting soap to be distributed at St. John’s Center for Homeless Men, where Sherley Sample volunteers regularly. Give them to the men there they can get a shower. If we can swing it, we’d like to take some of the kids there, to speak with some of the folks about what it’s like to not have a place to live in.
And you know, God will still love our youth just as much if they don’t collect sweatpants as if they do. God will still love our children just as much if they don’t collect soap as if they do. We do not have to earn God’s love or a place in heaven by how many sweatpants or bars of soap we collect. That’s not the point.
The point is that heaven has earned a place in us. That’s the point. Heaven, which waits for us beyond the grave with eternal joy and peace, also breaks into this strife-filled world. Jesus has brought heaven here, God’s love for everyone and all creation here, and has swept us up into it.
When we baptize, there is a moment called the laying on of hands, where we put our hands on people’s heads and pray for the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. That is a quote from Isaiah. Isaiah is speaking of the Messiah, whom we know as Jesus. So when someone laid hands on you and prayed that prayer over you, they were claiming for you the same Spirit that filled Jesus.
So that the Spirit of the Lord is upon us, because the Spirit has anointed us
To preach good news to the poor,
Proclaim release to the captives,
Recovery of sight to the blind,
To let the oppressed go free,
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
This year, now, always the time to be swept up into God bringing all things back to right.