Hope into Reality

25 01 2010

Text:  Luke 4:14-21;

Many organizations, profit or not-for-profit, have a Mission Statement.  In 50 words or less, they seek to sum up exactly their reason for existence and what they hope to accomplish while they’re around.  It may take several meetings for some consensus to come about and lots of wordsmithing usually ensues.

I’ve always loved this passage from the Gospel of Luke in part because when I saw the TV miniseries from what seems like forever ago, “Jesus of Nazareth,” the powerful image of Jesus reading from this scroll from the book of Isaiah and what appears to be all the people of Nazareth are gathered around.  They listen intently to the words Jesus reads from centuries ago …

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me for he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor

He has sent me to proclaim release to the capitves and recovery of sight to the blind

To let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord’s favour.

The men and women wait expectantly to hear the comment that Jesus will make on this Scripture that is meant to inspire and fill us with hope, and after he kisses the scroll, he says

Today, in your hearing, the Scripture has been fulfilled.

With this short passage and short phrase, Jesus reveals his Mission Statement, and that statement is not just a hope for what he wishes to accomplish, but that hope of all the People of God, in him and through him, has become a reality.

Jesus, through the Gospel of Luke, seeks to help us to understand that nature of his Messiahship. The scene set for the Gospel is fittingly in a synagogue.  Luke is very careful here to show Jesus as a reformer of Judaism, not an opponent.  He is faithful to the Sabbath and the Scripture, and he is participating in the life of the community of faith.  The Gospel of John calls Jesus the Word of God, and it is fitting that the Living Word, the fulfillment of Scripture, is reading from the written word, words and books that were inspired by God and handed down through the ages. Through God’s written word and God’s Incarnate Word, we get a glimpse into what God is like and why God chooses to involve Himself in our history.

A similar scene is found in our Old Testament reading from Nehemiah, which also affirms God’s revelation of himself in the written word.  Nehemiah has just read the Law, the code by which the people of Israel separate themselves from the rest of the world and proclaim through their actions that they are God’s people.   We are told that “all the people were gathered together,” and no real distinction between class or gender or perhaps even race were observed.  Over a thousand years ago, we get a taste of foreshadowing of what the Reign of God might be like. Nehemiah proclaims, “Do not mourn or weep!” because he saw that the people were moved by the reading of the Law.  Instead, he says “Go your way, eat your fill and drink sweet wine and bring portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared …. the joy of the Lord is our strength.”  The coming and hearing of the Word is not a time of weeping and mourning, but is proclaimed to be a time of rejoicing.

Epiphany is a season of signs and wonders, a time when we read and hear the stories of miracles and the calling of the first disciples.  By reading this particular passage at the start of his ministry, Jesus sets the tone for everything he will do during his short remaining days on the earth.  He reads from Isaiah chapter 61, but interestingly enough stops short and leaves out the phrase, “the day of vengeance of our God.”

Jesus is showing us that he did not come to proclaim God’s vengeance upon mankind for all we have done to each other and to Creation, but it is a day of rescue, freedom, salvation and opportunity to share with him in the work of redemption. We share in that work by simple acts of common decency and even acts of sacrifice: treating the drunkard with respect even though everyone knows he should have gone home hours ago, giving time in a soup kitchen, calling out elected officials on corruption, giving to the arts and cultural institutions, being faithful in your stewardship and demanding that everyone be treated with equal dignity …. in short, loving your neighbor as yourself.

When the People of Israel read this passage, they looked forward to the day described here in Isaiah with a great deal of hope and expectation. Even today when things are at their worst, many times we talk about how “someday” things will get better, or “someday” the culture wars will be over.  But Jesus, as usual, turns everything upon its head, and says, “actually, it’s not someday, but … really … and I know you may not be ready for this …. it’s now today.”    I believe that when Jesus is talking about “today” he is not saying just this particular day, but every day.  Think about it.  The past is history … the future is something we hope for … but today is the reality we live in.  When Jesus says “Today the Scriptures are fulfilled,” he is saying that “Today, the hope of the future has become the reality of the present.”   And he will continue to drive that point home with the phrase “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.  Repent and believe the Good News.”

The sign we are given in this week’s Gospel during this season of Epiphany is that the Kingdom of God has come in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ.  We are given a Mission Statement that we can rally around.  We are recipients of the promises of :

Freedom and release from oppression — our anxieties, our addictions, and through the miracle of Christ’s resurrection, even death

Sight — though we still “see through a glass dimly” the scales will fall from our eyes and we will see image of God in each and every person, and even find God in what may seem like the worst things that can happen to us

Jesus said, “Today in your hearing the Scriptures are fulfilled.”  The Kingdom of God is not some great, pie-in-the-sky idea for the future where we may wait to get snatched away to heaven, but it is something we can live out in the present, in the reality of the resurrection and the promise of new life, and in the here and now.

Amen

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One response

1 02 2010
Doorman-Priest

Thought provoking as ever.

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