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The Fourth Sunday of Epiphany
Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:11-20; I Corinthians 14:12-25; Luke 4:21-32
The first question that faces us in this passage is, what scripture has been fulfilled in their hearing? This is because, of course, we did not have church last week, and so are left halfway through the passage. So let’s take a moment to go to the Scriptures from last week, where Christ, sitting in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth, gets up and reads from Isaiah 61.
He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
“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.”
This is the inauguration, in Luke’s gospel, of Jesus’ work of salvation. Here is where he introduces the ministry, culminating in his death and resurrection, that will bring about the New Age, the renewed creation ruled only by God! The Year of the Lord’s favor, the Jubilee: all debts are paid, prosperity shared equally among all, the blessing of God’s abundance.
And Jesus says, “today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” What does he mean? That in Him, these things are true, these things are coming to be, these things are inevitable. These things: Sight to the blind, the freeing of the oppressed, good news to the poor, were there, embodied in Him, beginning with Him.
So why, why do they try to lynch Jesus by throwing him off a cliff? There are two elements at play here. The first is that familiarity breeds contempt; this is His hometown, and they knew Him as Joseph and Mary’s child. Who was he to claim to be the Messiah, the one who would save them? The second is what he says next.
Once they begin to question His proclamation of the Gospel, that He is the restorer of all things, Jesus knew that they had no faith. Jesus notes that they will want him to show them the miracles He did in Capernaum, a sure sign they are missing the momentous point, are distracted by their jealousy of a homegrown boy to be the Messiah, and their inability to believe without a sign. What work of God might we be missing because we have been conditioned to skepticism? What work might we miss because it comes by unimpressive means or by unimpressive people?
Jesus then reminds them of their history. Elijah and Elisha came to the people of God, and what did they find? A people who did not want to hear God’s word, did not want to listen to God’s promise. And yet people outside, people who did not belong to that people, accepted them and received their blessing.
The point became clear very quickly. The people of Jesus’ hometown are being identified with those who rejected God’s prophets in the past. Your ancestors rejected them, and now you are rejecting me. But those outside, those in darkness, those who have not heard the word or promise of God or who have heard it incompletely, they will hear and receive and believe and bear fruit. God does not need any of us, but rather we need Him. From the very beginning, it was God’s intention to come to the Gentiles, those whom Israel was most prejudiced against, and to embrace them and give them a place in the plan for New Creation, the transformation of things.
The people of Nazareth presumed to deserve the Messiah, but on their terms, with their expectations. Are you familiar with the story of the Grand Inquisitor from The Brothers Karamazov? It is a poem told in the middle of the book, from one brother hostile to religion to another who is deeply religious. In the poem, during the Inquisition in Spain, Jesus Christ returns to earth. He is quickly captured by the Grand Inquisitor, who informs him that they do not need him anymore, and in fact that the Church has learned that His message that all people are free to choose is too great a burden for the masses. We have learned, he says, that what the people want is what the Devil offered; they want bread, and miraculous signs, and to be led and controlled. Jesus, he says, was wrong to hold man in high esteem. The people of Nazareth are like this; show us miracles, give us bread, favor us, and if not, stay quiet.
We, too often, are like this. We think Jesus should fit our expectations. We want signs, we want comfort and bread, power and control. And we, in our prejudice, will not see the Lord where he is, or go where He came to be: in the presence of the blind, oppressed, weak, and downtrodden.
God’s grace is for us, but not something we can claim out of “deserving.” God’s love is for us, but not something we earn or can claim outside of faith. God is for us, but if we expect Him to work only through signs, through our comfort, through protecting us from all the darkness we want to avoid in life, then we have failed to see God as He really is. God in Jesus Christ came to set the captive free, to give the blind sight, and to give the good news to the poor. First, know that you are the poor, blind captive; and Second, be the Image Bearer of God who brings that good news to the poor, the blind, and those caught in the chains of oppression around us. Be the sign of God to the world.
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