3rd Sunday after Epiphany (Luke 4:14-21)
Your confirmands and I have been studying God’s passion for justice in the Old Testament. Justice in most of the Bible means economic fairness for all people. God is not happy with 90% of wealth and property in the hands of 10% of the ruling class. Everyone should get a piece of the pie. God does not want his people to live under oppression or slavery. God does not want his people blinded by those who take advantage of them. He wants all of his people to see clearly and treat one another with love and respect.
When God’s people were slaves in Egypt, he chose Moses to lead them out and into a land flowing with milk and honey. When his people lost their way and were forced into exile, God sent them a pagan general Cyrus to conquer their enemy and lead them home. God gets enough and then acts for his people.
Finally, God raised up a humble rabbi and filled him with his own passion for justice. Jesus received God’s spirit at his baptism. He was fired up and ready to inaugurate a new day. God works through less famous people as well, like Jesus’ mother Mary. Her magnificat sung before Jesus’ birth displays God’s passion for justice. “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich empty away.” Even John the Baptist’s father Zechariah spoke a similar prophecy before John’s birth. “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Jesus grew up in a poor family, learning firsthand how unfair life had become. God’s passion slowly became his passion. Today’s gospel is Jesus’ inaugural address. It announces his program. Where did he get it? From the Bible! God is speaking through Jesus the same words God spoke through that unknown prophet, called “Third Isaiah.” Let’s look at these words again together. Will you read them aloud with me? “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.”
Good news for the poor means bad news for the rest of us. How will the poor get their piece of the pie? Only if we Christians give it to them. “No way, Jose.” Release for the captives? We may well hope that someday prisons will be empty, the oppressed set free, poverty and world hunger ended. All of these are worthy, long-term goals, but now? “Let’s appoint a committee to study these problems and report back in a year.” As for recovery of sight to the blind, forget about it. Who will cut through all of the reams of governmental red tape? Who will uncover and expose all of the unfair business practices that keep people in the dark? Who will become eyes for the blind?
And now for the next to the last surprise. The year of the Lord’s favor was a command from God that every fifty years all debts were to be cancelled and all property illegally seized was to be returned to its rightful owners. How’s that for the great leveler?
But the best is saved for last. Jesus says in effect, “It’s all going to start today through me.” Like those in the Nazareth synagogue, we are appalled. Today is a terrifying word! It forces tomorrow’s dream on us before we are ready. We are the body of Christ in the world today. We were given the spirit of the risen Christ at our baptism. Do you remember my words on January 13, the day we celebrated Jesus’ baptism? “I am God’s beloved child, called and sent to make a difference in the world.” How will you and I do that today?
We can start by saying, “enough is enough!” Today we are going to make changes here at Good Shepherd. We are going to invite someone today to come with us to worship next Sunday. We are going to discuss this inaugural address of Jesus with someone today and do something – anything! We are going to read the first four chapters of Luke’s gospel this week and discover once again who this Jesus really is. As his sisters and brothers, we will determine together how we can put his programs into practice, not someday but now. Could we be the blind ones? If so, our Lord wants to heal our blindness. Are we ready to see clearly the handwriting on the wall? Or will we table all of this until. . . You supply the final words.