The Spirit which came upon him and moved him to go into the desert. Now within him. No disciples yet. Just the Spirit.
Jesus returns with one heck of a sermon
Epiphany 3C | Luke 4:14-21
The first sermon
For as powerful as his storytelling and rhetoric is, if this is an example of Jesus’s preaching, I’m afraid he would have failed homiletics. Too short. Way too short. All he preached was a single sentence. You can’t get away with that. Nobody could pull that off. Even Jesus. Seriously. One sentence. 9 words. Sheesh.Jesus is pushing something about himself and about the Spirit. Click To Tweet
Of course, they are 9 deeply troubling words when put together in this context. We might like them, what with all our trinitarian theology and our comfy pews in the knowledge of our history.
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
That’s gutsy, Jesus.
Even gutsier that this is his first sermon. His first act of public ministry in Luke. Remember last week, we had the wedding at Cana, which is only in the gospel we call John. And before that, we had Jesus’s baptism. In this gospel we call Luke, Jesus is baptised in chapter 3, there is a genealogy, then Jesus is compelled by the Spirit to go into the wilderness for 40 days where he is tempted by the Adversary.
Then he comes home to Nazareth of Galilee “filled with the Spirit”. The Spirit which came upon him and moved him to go into the desert. Now within him. No disciples yet. Just the Spirit.
Ched Myers points out that “Nazareth is not mentioned outside the New Testament”. It is a tiny, podunk town. It was small enough that Jesus, who is walking around with a common name, could be referred to as “Jesus of Nazareth” and people would know who you were talking about.
Myers suggests that the one striking characteristic of Nazareth is its proximity to a much bigger city. Sepphoris was just 3 miles away. I say was because it was obliterated around the time of Jesus’s birth because nationalist rebels there struck against Rome. And the retaliation was mighty. Myers writes:
Moreover, since both Jesus and his father labored as carpenters/construction workers (tekton) in Nazareth, a one hour walk away, it is likely they would have gotten work rebuilding Sepphoris, a project initiated by Herod Antipas…After all, oppressed people still today are often forced economically to build the infrastructure of their colonizers.
So Jesus grew up next to a city destroyed by colonizers, watched it being rebuilt by his people. Maybe even he participated in its rebuilding. He would have seen and known the injustice. There’s no way this doesn’t effect him. There’s no way.
And this is the place Jesus comes home to. Brought home by and filled with the Spirit. And he walks into the synagogue and is able to read, not from Torah, but from the Prophets: Isaiah. And he preaches those 9 challenging words.
Let’s take a minute with that section of Isaiah that Jesus reads. If you’ve got it in front of you, take a look at it. It’s that indented part of the gospel reading.
He begins by saying “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” which it is! It pushed him into the desert and then verse 14 says “Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee”. We instantly know that Jesus is pushing something here. About himself and about the Spirit.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” Because gives us explanation. Because Jesus has been blessed to bring good news to those who know only bad.
“He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives” – to bring liberation
“and recovery of sight to the blind,” – to bring vision
“to let the oppressed go free,” – to again, bring liberation
“to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” – to preach GOD’s kingdom come.
What Jesus means by “year of the Lord’s favor,” I’m not sure. But many see it, and I see it too, as referring to the Jubilee year, the year of GOD’s favor for all, for the community, in which all broken systems are remade, all new possessions are returned, and the blessing of GOD is shared without price, without benefit, with a whole community restored to order.
Jesus reads this passage from Isaiah. Then says
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
And that is it. He is done.
There are no tips for how to make that happen. No article titled “10 ways to bring liberation to the oppressed”. He doesn’t tell us how his coming to these people in his home town brings about GOD’s reconciling with humanity.
Nor does he say to make a complex theology about who he really is to these people. He reads a passage about one who is to come, bringing good news and liberation, announcing the coming of the kingdom and GOD’s great reconciliation when not only order, but equality is restored to a broken, unjust world. He reads that and he says “that is happening now, here, in your hearing it.”
And as we will hear next week, the people really, really don’t get it. But I wonder if we mistake the part in which it says one will come to say these things and do these things as what Jesus means as “being fulfilled.” Could it be instead that what is fulfilled is not the prophecy about Jesus, but announcement of vision, that meaning of prophecy, of telling the hard truth, that it isn’t Jesus speaking that matters, but that this message is being heard by these people! It is fulfilled in their hearing! And more, it is fulfilled in our hearing!
Our good news
This is what the Good News is; why it is news to be heard. Not one time or in one time, but again and again and again. That we have a liberator. That we have one that has already come and is planning on showing back up when we get our stuff together.
And in hearing this, in these words coming into our ears, we might also have vision, that we might have our sight restored.
That line about bringing sight to the blind wasn’t in that Isaiah passage Jesus read, but it is what Jesus brings, what the hearing of good news does to us: it restores our vision – that we can see the calamity and want it to end. So that we can see violence and be compelled to make peace. So that we can see those imprisoned by greed and hate and abuse, and that we are filled with the Spirit, that we might free them.
For the prisons of our world are not only surrounded by bars, but by the limitations of our sight. We see only good guys and bad guys, black and white, and we see reconciliation as simply being good, rather than the radical breaching of our usual order, breaking the system open and saying this is not the kingdom way. This is not how the Jesus Movement works.
We have the Spirit. We have our Guide. We have our GOD. We cannot be stopped. Not for the work of GOD. Not for kingdom-building and justice-bringing. Not for building up the movement in this city for following Jesus: for loving GOD and loving our neighbors as if they were brothers. As if they were us! Our very flesh. As if that spirit in us is in them too.
For our bringing good news to the poor in the park this week. For the liberation from oppressive faith and a small and petty GOD. For the sight to see the injustice of this world. For letting go those we’ve shackled with our expectations.
We do all of this so that we can participate, that we can work with Jesus to bring about the Great Shalom, the Jubilee, the great moment of freedom and reunification. Forgiving debts, changing expectations, giving away power. Bringing Jesus home.