Jesus comes to the synagogue in his hometown after a time in the desert. Since he is now a rabbi, he’s invited to read and to preach. He turns the scroll – which takes several minutes – to a passage in Isaiah, and leaves no doubt that he is reading about himself. “The spirit of the Lord is upon me,” he reads. “He has sent me….. Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Jesus connects himself to the giant of Old Testament prophets and in doing so, he connects us to God’s activity in our business, in the affairs of human history. His story and our story begins with a wandering Semite, Abraham, searching for the Promised Land and waiting for the promise of descendants to be fulfilled. When Jesus finds the place in Isaiah where it is written, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me,” he joins us with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with the God of Moses and Elijah, the God of David and Solomon, the God of Jeremiah, and John the Baptist, and Saul of Tarsus.
If you and I were in charge of picking a culture or nation into which the son of God ought to grow up, we never would have picked Abraham. He’s the one who got tired of waiting on God to fulfill his promise and had a child by his servant girl. Once when he was passing through a foreign country, and the local strong man admired his wife, he said, “Oh, she’s my sister. Would you like for her to keep you warm tonight?”
We would never begin our story with Abraham. But since God doesn’t think as we think, he picked those second-class nomads descended from Abraham, as the cradle for his son. We still have a lot in common with the biblical children of Israel, as made clear in the passage Jesus read. He put himself into the passage by announcing that his way was service, self-sacrifice, and obedience. He picked that way because he was filled with the Spirit. The passage he read was the announcement that something not previously known in the history of the world is happening right now.Jesus Christ, born of Mary, claims for himself the spirit of the Lord, not upon the great Pharaohs or Caesars, then or now, but upon Jesus of Nazareth in their midst – and ours.
Throughout the history of the Israelites, the spirit of the Lord visited their mighty heroes. From Samson in his strength, to Gideon in his strategy, to David in his reign and Solomon in his glory, to Isaiah in his poetic power and Jeremiah in his gloom, each one rose or fell according to whether the spirit of the Lord was upon him. Now Jesus claims the same spirit for himself.. Did he then rise up and slay a hundred Roman soldiers, lead his people in all-out war, begin a thousand year reign? \
No. Here is what he said, “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.” The good news that Jesus announced is totally religious in meaning. That is, after his baptism and encounter with the devil in the desert, Jesus knew that he had the blessing of the Father.
Now he’s ready to show and tell the Father’s love for others. The poor are those who live in the poverty of low self-esteem, stricken in spirit, dependent on others. Similarly, the captive, the blind, the oppressed are those who are themselves victims of inward failures, inadequacies, and injustices. All these prophetic descriptions from Isaiah, Jesus now appropriates for himself. Were some in his congregation among the poor, that is, those who needed help that only God can supply?
Then their source of help was Jesus Christ, speaking. Were some captive to inner voices and forces they did not understand? Were they beset by temptations and tugs and drives they could not resist? Were they captive to urges and impulses by which they were chained to attitudes or actions from which they sought freedom? When we struggle with life, or have the idea that our energies and purpose are on the wrong track, or realize that so much of what we’ve done should have been left undone,
or when we have too often neglected what should have taken our attention, we are experiencing what it is to be captive, blind, and oppressed.
We then understand these words of Jesus in the spiritual and biblical sense that he had in mind. And because he reached back into the Old Testament for his first hometown sermon, we also are linked with the story of salvation that began with Abraham.
It would be nice if the high and mighty were our heritage, like ancient Greece or Rome or Egypt or Assyria. Instead, our story starts with a tired and disreputable Jew named Abraham trudging through the dessert in search of a fabled Promised Land. Because Jesus picks up the history of that family, then Abraham becomes our spiritual ancestor. Joseph saved our family by letting us live in Egypt. Moses freed our ancestors after they became slaves of the Egyptians. And when we were back in the Promised Land rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem with Nehemiah, lo and behold, the Babylonians came and exiled our fathers. When we were baptized into Christ, we became connected with all that history of salvation, with Jesus Christ as the linkage and cornerstone. We were there in the synagogue at Nazareth.
So it is into our ears and hearts that this word comes to us from Jesus Christ. In him the long-promised year of Jubilee spoken of in Leviticus has finally arrived. But it all takes place in our hearing, without so much as a gasp or a shout or throwing away crutches or hearing aids or eyeglasses or suddenly finding a winning power ball in our pockets. It all takes place in our hearing. There were times, of course, in Jesus’ ministry and in the life of the early church, when miracles of healing took place. But in Luke’s story, Jesus has just emerged from the desert after making key decisions about the shape of his ministry.
One thing he did not want was for people to see him only as a miracle worker to be looked at and applauded. He was not looking for people to say, “Wasn’t that a great show.” Jesus is not looking for spectators. In hearing that the spirit of the Lord is upon him, that he is the one who preaches good news, proclaims release, gives sight and sets at liberty – these things happen to those who are l istening not just in the congregation at Nazareth but to those who gather wherever his story is told.
Jesus Christ comes to us in the telling of the gospel. What once happened in Nazareth in the synagogue comes to life in us as we listen to the story. Our interest does not stop at the original event, or Jesus would be left in the past. He is not stranded in Palestine, and we are not called to worship a God stuck in an ancient land.
We are part of the forward movement of God and God’s people, a movement in which Jesus Christ brings the spirit of the Lord into our time and place, and in which his promises of relief and release are fulfilled. As we hear the story of Christ, we receive today the year of the Lord for ourselves.
Christ’s death and resurrection has brought us the spirit of the Lord. When we hear his story with faith, we become new people. We may not be cured, but we are healed in such a way that we can live The way of the Lord is to be joined with him in his death and resurrection, so that our old person is continually crucified and a new person is continually being resurrected.
We become renewed as people of God because we continually renew our baptism, feed on heavenly food in the supper of the Lord, and are nourished on the power of his word. We who are weighed down with many a burden, we who are captive, we who are blind, we who are oppressed, we who strain to hear the distant rumble of the year of the Lord, look to him for help and mercy.
His answer to our cry is, “Today in your hearing, the scripture is fulfilled.” It is not to those who hope for outstanding obituaries that God comes. It is not to the self-appointed important people that God comes; it is not only to the strong, the multitalented, the oft-blessed, and the internally wealthy that God comes.
Nor shall we attract his attention with monuments of stone or power or personal sovereignty. Rather, because God came in a simple man of Nazareth who sought the company of those who had been battered and beaten by life, we know that he will come in love to us also. His divine love for us cannot be defeated.
He overcomes every weakness, he shines through every blindness. He breaks every prison’s bars. His love for us cannot be frustrated or baffled or destroyed. Jesus Christ faced the worst of situations and rose to become a resurrected presence among his brothers and sisters and all who call on him in every age. Those who by faith are bound to him, will triumph over evil, — and in eternity, will enjoy his presence forever.
For the spirit of the Lord is upon him, and now, his spirit comes upon each one of us, both as a group, and as individuals, each one. Right here. Right now.