The Third Sunday after Epiphany; Year C (1/27/2013)

Lessons:Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 Psalm 19 (7) 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a St. Luke 4:14-21

Prayer of the Day: Blessed Lord God, you have caused the holy scriptures to be written for the nourishment of your people.  Grant that we may hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that, comforted by your promises, we may embrace and forever hold fast to the hope of eternal life, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

4:14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 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, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 “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, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 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.”

St. Luke 4:14-21 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Today this Scripture Has Been Fulfilled

This week’s Gospel is the first part of a two-part story. We will hear about the congregation’s response to Jesus’ first “hometown sermon” next week — and we may be a bit surprised to learn what their reaction is. (If you can’t wait, take a peek at St. Luke 4:21-32.) But the task at hand is to explore this week’s text, and as we do so it reveals that in a classic inaugural address, Jesus lays out what the people of Nazareth can expect to hear from him during the course of his ministry.

Jesus is speaking to the residents of a small and unimportant town; a rural setting where most of the residents are subsistence farmers and low income laborers; a community largely made up of Jewish believers, living under the thumb of the occupying Roman forces. Given this, Jesus’ words must initially have struck their ears as good news. He has been anointed by God to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and freedom to the oppressed. The ancient vision of health and wellbeing that Isaiah had for God’s people will finally come to be — in their community! The shalom for which they had been longing will at last be theirs.

So far so good. This is indeed good news for an oppressed and sometimes discouraged people. It lifts up the hope that the promise to Abraham is about to be fulfilled: that his descendants will become a mighty nation, with citizens as numerous as the stars, respected (and feared) by their neighbors. One suspects that their initial response to these words is the same as their neighbors’ response: “He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.” (verse 15).

At this point, the story takes a dramatic turn. Jesus carefully rolls up the scroll. He turns and reverently places it in the hands of the attendant. He moves over and sits in the seat appointed for the teacher of the day. Every eye in the house is fixed on him. You can almost feel the worshippers leaning forward in their chairs, holding their breath, preparing themselves for whatever he might have to say in response to this reading from the prophet.

And then it comes: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Today this scripture has been fulfilled? What does he mean by this? Does he mean that those realities promised by Isaiah are about to take place? Will the poor soon hear good news? Will the people of Nazareth (and Bethlehem and Capernaum and Jerusalem…) be released from their captivity to the Romans? Will the blind among them have their sight restored? Will those who are oppressed in any way be freed? This would be nothing less than the Messianic Age! If Jesus is announcing that all of this will soon take place, the people of Nazareth ought to be among the most grateful people in the land.

Or does he have something else in mind? Instead, is he announcing that he, himself, is the One spoken about by Isaiah? That he is the Messiah? The Son of God? If this is the point of Jesus’ first sermon, then it will be a hard pill to swallow for those who watched him grow up in their midst.

We’ll have to wait for next week to measure their response. This week, let’s ponder what Jesus means. How will good news, release, sight and freedom be essential to the work he accomplishes in the first century? And how will it be essential to what he accomplishes in our lives today? These are great Epiphany questions for us to consider.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What causes the people of Galilee to speak about Jesus with such high praise?
  2. How is this different for those from Nazareth, who are more familiar with him?
  3. What does he mean when he claims that the Scriptures are fulfilled “today?”

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What does good news, release, sight and freedom look like in our world today?
  2. In what ways am I poor, captive, blind or oppressed?
  3. How might these words of Jesus sound like good news to me today?