21Then [Jesus] began to say to [all in the synagogue in Nazareth,] “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”
23He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’ ” 24And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”
28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
The 3rd Sunday after Epiphany January 23, 2022
It doesn’t seem like 2020 or 2021 could have been the year of our Lord’s favor. But what about this year? Some point things will go back to normal, right? But of the many things we’ve seen in the last few years, broken systems that lead to injustice and disparity are at the top of the list of revelations. Health care disparities for low-income communities and greater rates of illness of people of color, along with a broken system of medical care in our country relying on nurses who work exhausting overtime. The pandemic has exacerbated income inequality for those who have no safety nets The lack of accessible childcare and family leave time leaves parents with no good options for how to work and care for their kids at the same time.
We’ve known this for a while, and now the pandemic has revealed it further. It has also revealed deficiencies in our care for the elderly, and those in assisted living facilities. Caretakers perform physically and emotionally exhausting work for our loved ones for minimal pay. The continuing work of dismantling systemic racism in our country has led to backlash of white supremacists whose rhetoric has always been with us, right under the surface. These systems are broken.
Fortunately for us, Jesus does not just come for broken individuals, Jesus comes for broken systems. The savior of the world is not just a personal savior, but saves families, neighborhoods, and nations. God has always been a god of setting people free from broken systems, and bringing them to safety, but it’s a long bumpy road.
In our text today, Jesus speaks a word into the broken systems around him. Just four chapters into Luke’s Gospel – Jesus has spent his time in the wilderness, being tempted by the devil – and has returned and is teaching in Galilee synagogues. He’s getting quite a reputation, and then he comes home, back to Nazareth.
He goes to synagogue on the sabbath – like you do, Luke says – and apparently another custom of his was standing to read scripture. He gets handed Isaiah – it’s unclear if he picked his text or if that’s what he was asked to read. Either way, it’s a pretty great text. This part of Isaiah likely had been written around the time of Nehemiah, when the people were returning from exile. Coming home after a long time in a foreign land.
The Persian king Cyrus had defeated the Babylonians and decreed that the exiles should return to their homeland and rebuild their city and their temple. The mourning in Zion in Isaiah 61:3 is not the trauma of exile and being forced out of your own country. This mourning in Isaiah 61 rises out of frustration and humiliation. Rebuilding and restoring is hard and emotional work, and their reality did not meet expectations.
Nehemiah’s community is not ok. They are living into a new normal as well, back from the exile to a dramatically different landscape with the same issues that have always been there. Nehemiah decides to gather them around scripture, and what happens is God’s Spirit at work.
When Jesus He reads this snippet from the prophet Isaiah – has everyone’s attitude focuses back to a time when God’s promises were really fulfilled – back when God brought them home, as he promises. And I never noticed this before – but he just goes and sits back down. 20And 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. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And next week we’ll hear how things went downhill from there.
This is Luke’s foundational text about Jesus. This is what Jesus is about. Jesus fulfills all the promises of scripture, and God’s desire to free his people and bring them home. Jesus not only confirms God’s preference and care for the poor and oppressed, but also foreshadows his rejection and violent death. Many have tried to spiritualize Jesus’ priorities – but Luke will have none of that. Where Matthew’s Jesus teaches – blessed are the poor in spirit – Luke’s Jesus assures the disciples, blessed are the POOR. THE HUNGRY. Not just those who hunger and thirst for righteousness but those who need a meal.
Jesus fulfills God’s will – and brings it home to his neighbors. What’s the content of God’s will? What’s the plan?? Give the poor Good News. Give the captives freedom. Give sight to the blind. Free the oppressed. That’s Jesus ministry in a nutshell. And it begins with actual need. And actual people. It begins with Jesus going to the margins and setting people free from what binds them, filling their nets and their bellies, healing someone’s skin and their relationships. Forgiving sins and reminding people that are fearful that God does new things all the time. Maybe instead of feeling sorry for ourselves that 2022 is already a bummer of a year, we look to those whom God favors and follow Jesus’ plan for ministry.
What would the poor in our community hear as good news? How can we share good news with neighbors living in poverty? If we’re talking about literal convicted criminals, how can we serve that population and what can they be freed from. The sight to the blind is a bit hard unless you are Jesus or a surgeon, but our community can certainly provide help to those who have physical accessibility needs. Freeing the oppressed requires knowing people, and what’s got them held down. Listening to people’s stories and believing those who experience injustice. Listening is also key for the guilt ridden and fearful.
It’s hard to look around and feel like we could make much difference in broken systems. It’s also hard to look around and feel like our community, this piece of the body of Christ has brokenness in it as well. There are pieces missing here, pieces that are ill or unhealthy. But I’m telling you that this is the year of the Lord’s favor. Nehemiah ends his preaching and teaching by telling the people not to weep – not because there’s nothing worthy of weeping for, but because the joy of the Lord is your strength. We don’t do any of this on our own. We don’t rebuild community on our own – we don’t heal our community on our own. God is at work and has been at work.
And when our priorities are with those whom God has favored, as st. paul said – the whole body is lifted up. When one member suffers, all suffer with it – when one rejoices all rejoice with it. Jesus comes for broken individuals and broken systems. He’s coming for us. Let’s follow where he’s leading and place our focus there. Place our focus on those who Jesus prioritizes – and let him work in our lives through that. Amen.
Pastor Erin Evans