January 27, 2019: "Oh , No He Didn't!"

January 27, 2019                                                                           Rev. Rhonda Blevins, DMIN

Oh, No He Didn’t!

Isaiah 61:1-2a

Luke 4:14-21


The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.______

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. 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.”

 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”______ 

“We are not living in an era of change but a change of era.” —Pope Francis, 2015

I’m old enough to remember rotary phones instead of smart phones and hand-written letters instead of text messages. I’m old enough to remember Kodak film and telephone booths and paying with cash. I’m old enough to remember getting through airport security without taking off my shoes. I’m old enough to remember getting up, walking to the television, and changing the channel by hand to one of three channels. I know I’m showing my age here. I also know some of you are older than me! Like, a LOT older! J

For the record, I agree and disagree with Pope Francis. We are living in an era of change AND a change of era. As sojourners within an era of change, we’re quite aware of how the world has transformed in our lifetimes, whether we’re 20 or 120. That we live in an era of change is not news to us. It is far more difficult to recognize our place as sojourners in the middle of a change of era. If you feel like the world has gone mad, know that the craziness is symptomatic of major shifts in culture as well as in the church.

As for the church, Phyllis Tickle suggests that the churchgoes through these changes, what she calls tsunami-like “Giant Rummage Sales,” every 500 years or so. Rummage sales—those dreadful occasions in which you throw stuff out you no longer need. Tickle suggests that we’re living through one of those times now. In other words, the church is getting her Marie Kondo on.

Think about it:

·         Roughly 500 years ago we had the “Great Reformation” which resulted in the myriad denominations we have now.

·         Roughly 500 years before that was the “Great Schism” which resulted in the break between Eastern and Western expressions of faith.

·         Roughly 500 years before that was the “Great Fall” of Rome which resulted in the Dark Ages and the monastic tradition within the church.

·         Roughly 500 years before that was what Tickle calls the “Great Transformation,” when a charismatic peasant from a little nowhere town of Nazareth rocked the institutional order.

And that’s where we are today in our scripture text. In the Gospel of Luke, the story of Jesus reading from the scroll at the synagogue is his first act of public ministry (you may remember from last week that John cites the miracle of changing water to wine as his first public act). This was no accident, as Luke is a very deliberate, intentional writer. In Luke, we read about Jesus’ baptism, his temptations in the desert, and then we find him going to his hometown even before he calls his first disciple.

At first it seems to go well. We are reminded in this text that Jesus practiced Judaism, and was attending synagogue on the Sabbath like a good Jew. The practice at that time was that men would take turns reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, and then interpreting the scripture for those gathered. Jesus was likely one of several readers that day, but his interpretation was far from ordinary. The scripture gives us beautiful detail:

He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him.
He unrolled the scroll . . .

He began to read from the prophet Isaiah, chapter 61 (which we read together) and one verse from Isaiah 58 (v. 6):

 “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.”

Luke then tells us:

 He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 

Then everyone in the room said, “Oh, no he didn’t!” They may have muttered among themselves, “Has Joseph’s boy gone mad? Did he say TODAY this scripture has been fulfilled? Look around! Rome is still our oppressor. We still live in poverty while our oppressors live in palaces and extravagant wealth. And you say, ‘TODAY this scripture has been fulfilled?’”

Spoiler alert: the hometown crowd likes his speaking ability at first, but by the end of the chapter they’re going to try to throw him off a cliff. Apparently this message about TODAY—about a present-tense salvation—wasn’t very popular. It’s still not.

Luke places this story at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry to set the context for the rest of it. These words of justice are one part prescriptive, and one part descriptive. Let me explain.

Jesus reads these words, and then interprets them describing the current state of affairs—this dream, this hope for a better world—is realized TODAY. And simultaneously, Jesus is prescribing the mission or purpose of his ministry. This is his manifesto. And not only his, but all who would follow him. He is at once telling them that salvation is realized, and that his mission is to further the realization of this truth among all who will hear. Jesus’ interpretation, “This scripture has been/is fulfilled,” is written in the perfect tense, which all you English teachers know indicates an action that is completed in the present, but has ongoing implication. The implication is this, as John Dominic Crossan puts it, “You have been waiting for God. Jesus said, ‘God has been waiting on you.’”

Oh, snap!

Every Sunday we pray this truth when we say, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” But does it stick? Do we join Jesus in recognizing that TODAY is the day of justice, that God has been waiting on us to help realize “Thy kingdom come?” Or do we hold onto to escapist notions of heaven that prompt us to imagine we don’t have to work for Jesus’ mission here and now?

Oh, no she didn’t!

If Crossan is right, and God is waiting on us—if I’m right (and of course I am!) and Jesus prescribes both his own mission and ours in this text, what does that mean for how we live our lives? So let’s break the mission down, line by line. And for a little extra fun, let’s rate ourselves on how we’re doing with each part of the mission of the Christ-follower. So as we discuss each of the 5 elements of the mission, rate yourself on a scale from 1-5, with one being, “I’ve got serious work to do; I rarely participate in this work,” and 5 being, “I’ve got this! I do this at some level nearly every day!”

“To bring good news to the poor.” The Greek word πτωχός (ptóchos) can mean poor, destitute, spiritually poor, either in a good sense (humble devout persons) or bad. Bringing good news can take many forms—I think some Sand Key Coast Guard members will find it good news to receive a gift card this week. The beautiful family that we helped construct a house for through Habitat will love the good news of being homeowners when they’re handed the keys on February 16. Good news can come in the form of any expression, large or small, of friendship, care or hospitality. So rate yourself, 1 to 5, how well are you doing by way of “bringing good news to the poor?”

“To proclaim release to the captives.” Here the word is αἰχμάλωτος, (aichmalótos), which basically means “prisoner of war.” While there may be few literal POW’s to which we can “proclaim release,” there are plenty of figurative POW’s. Do you know someone held captive by addiction? Do you know someone held captive by low self-esteem? Consumerism? Doubt? Illness? Loneliness? What might it look like to proclaim release from “keeping up with the Joneses?” From isolation? From fear or hopelessness? So how are you doing with this part of the Christian mission on a scale from 1 to 5?

“Recovery of sight to the blind.” The word τυφλός, (tuphlos) can mean physical or spiritual blindness. I doubt there are any among us who don’t suffer this ailment at some level. We are all blind to ultimate truth, at least this side of eternity. Those of us with a little more understanding must share our gnosis with those with less clarity. And on a more practical level, your donations of used prescription glasses fulfill this mission for those who have little access to ophthalmological care. How are you helping the blind to see? 1 to 5?

“To let the oppressed go free.” The word “oppressed” in Greek is θραύω (throw'-o) meaning crushed or broken. The King James uses the word “bruised.” Do you know someone who is broken? We meet people every day walking around with broken hearts, broken hopes and dreams, broken spirits. The ER docs see people with broken bones. Those for whom the weight of the world is crushing need others to bear part of the load. How are you doing with that? 1 to 5?

“To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” This is a reference to the year of Jubilee. In the book of Leviticus (25:8-13) sets forth the Jewish law requiring that every 50 years debts were to be forgiven, prisoners were to be freed, and land was to be returned to the original family. The year of Jubilee was an economic equalizer and a reminder that things—systems—are not fair. Jesus was talking about systems here. We are called to work to create a more just world and fairer systems. The US Catholic Bishops put it this way, “A basic moral test is how our most vulnerable members are faring. In a society marred by deepening divisions between rich and poor, our tradition . . . instructs us to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first.”[1] This is called the, “preferential option for the poor.” How you doing here? 1 to 5?

So add up your score across the 5 metrics. The highest score you can make is 25. Did anyone get a 25? Allow us to declare you a saint right now! Most of us (all?) have at least a little work to do to live into this highest of callings. In the same manner, I’m going to assert that no one got a 5 or lower. There’s no one in this room who isn’t a good person. You can take that to the bank.

 I didn’t offer this exercise to make anyone feel bad about his or her Christian faith. Rather, this was an exercise in faithful introspection. Every now and then I’ll encounter individuals who come through some major illness or trauma—folks that were close to death and somehow pulled through. Occasionally they’ll say, “I guess God has something left for me to do.” They’ll sometimes comment that they wish they knew what that purpose was. Friends this is no guessing game. Our mission, as followers of Christ, is the same mission Christ claimed for himself:

to bring good news to the poor . . .
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.

I leave you with this truth: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

[1] United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catholic-social-teaching/option-for-the-poor-and-vulnerable.cfm

Debbie Wilson