Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.
That would be an audacious way to begin a sermon! It is an audacious way to begin a sermon. And yet, it is exactly what Jesus does.
Jesus, the hometown boy all grown up, baptized, tested in the wilderness, but back in his home church, reading the Scriptures and preaching — Mary and Joseph must be so proud…What did he just say?
Let’s set the scene a little bit more. Jesus, the Carpenter’s son is doing what every Jewish male at the synagogue could be asked to do…read the Scriptures and preach. He chooses the prophet Isaiah. He selects the passages. He announces their completion. These passages were associated with the coming Messiah. These passages are about God’s great promises of freedom, redemption, peace, and justice being fulfilled. Someone listening might have been thinking, Didn’t I use to babysit him? Or, Didn’t he run away that one time in Jerusalem? Or, Who does this kid think he is?!?
Clearly, the Messiah.
And, after this passage, we see how well that goes over for Jesus — nobody believes and they try to throw him off a cliff! So, what is going?
Jesus is setting out his agenda for his ministry… “to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” This is what Jesus is going to be all about. This is his work. This is the good news.
There’s a saying among some biblical scholars: good news is bad news is good news. Basically, it is the idea that receiving the good news means that there is bad news but it turns into good news with Jesus. For example, freedom for prisoners. Good news! But wait, then there must be prisoners who exist and that’s bad news (reality is often filled with bad news), but remember: the good news! Freedom!
However, to use another example, Jesus came to preach good news to the poor; which means there are poor people and there are systems that keep people in poverty. What is the good news? Jesus comes to overthrow those systems. Those that benefit from these systems, the rich, may not find themselves enjoying this part of the good news. That’s one of the reasons it is harder for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God than it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. Something that we need to think about and be honest with ourselves: do we really want to see good news preached to the poor? Are we ready for the consequences we might face?
Perhaps that isn’t the easy thing to hear. And maybe that’s another reason the people wanted to throw Jesus off a cliff. He said things that weren’t easy to hear. Perhaps.
I think, though, it is interesting what Jesus leaves out. When he reads, “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,” he leaves out of the reading, “and the day of vengeance of our God.” Because whether you’re rich or poor, the ministry of God isn’t going to be vengeance — it is about justice, reconciliation, and grace. And when we’re brought along into that ministry of reconciliation, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5, the wealth or the power that we’ve held on to becomes less and less important, and the love of Jesus more. So, what could that look like today? If this Scripture were to be fulfilled today, what would it look like?
I just want to take one example, and one that is becoming closer and closer to my own heart. Climate justice. Climate change and its threat to humanity’s very existence is birthed from a system of injustice. Much of it comes from a system of exploitation of the poor, an exploitation of our own resources, a ravenous and meaningless consumerism, as stuff can never fill that void that we seek to fill it with. And objects become disposable. Disposable. Have you ever thought about that word? Defined as an adjective, it means: “intended to be thrown away after use.” Hmm. I don’t think the God of Resurrection, the God of the Poor, ever wanted anything to be taken as disposable. Not people, not things.
Perhaps, we need to pray Psalm 19 more fervently? What a Psalm…it declares the glories of God’s creation, that sees creation not just as resources to be exploited or used, but as words, discourses, testimonies to the love and wonder of God. If we lose creation, if we destroy it through our greed, pride, and wastefulness, we lose part of the way that we can learn about God. And in the process, we hurt a lot of people.
But…if we join with the mission of Jesus, to bring reconciliation, justice, hope, freedom, we can rediscover God — not just in the renewing and revival of creation, but through lives made whole, through healed lives, and through our own living more humanly and humanely. We can celebrate the year of the Lord’s favor, the year of Jubilee. The year of Jubilee is a really interesting antidote for us. It is a year in which debts were forgiven, people were released from slavery, and ancestral lands were restored to their original owners. It was a way to re-establish equity and give people hope and freedom again. It was also a year where all the fields should lay fallow. It was a year of celebration, of gratitude. The ministry of Jesus declares this year, this time of the Lord’s favor.
Perhaps, our consumerism and materialism could be replaced with gratitude. That would further the work of reconciliation and free us from our need to acquire.
Perhaps, our competitiveness and desire to win could be replaced with a working towards equity and promoting the common good.
Perhaps, our exploitation of the earth could be replaced with letting it rest.
There are choices that we have to make. But the first choice is whether we are going to listen. Jesus said, “Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Today, we can join with Jesus, be reconciled to God through his work, life, death, and resurrection, live into the year of Jubilee, live into reconciliation, live into justice. Or…not. In the words of the Didache, an early Church teaching document that may have been written at a Council recorded in the Book of Acts, “There are two ways. The way of life and the way of death.” Stark, I know. But this reading, and the life and ministry of Jesus, reminds us that we’ve already been invited into the way of life, an abundant life filled with reconciliation and justice, not with vengeance or scorekeeping. There may be choices we have to make differently because of that, but those bring more freedom, more joy, and more life.
May we hear this week Jesus calling us into life. May we follow our Savior into that way of life. May we work for justice, for peace, for reconciliation in the world that God has created, that God loves, and that God is still caring for. May we know that today is the day of salvation, that today is the year of Lord’s favor. And may we live it out. Amen.