We laid the Rev. Canon James E. Purdy to rest a couple weeks ago; our Bishop and Bishop Shandy of Easton, who was Canon Purdy’s curate in Merchantville, had the honor of saying the Mass for his soul. Canon Purdy was 99 years old and was a priest in this diocese for 74 years; he was a bit outsized for the average priest at 6’5”, and he had an outsized impact on our parish, city, and diocese. Before and after the Mass, we (we being several parishioners and several priests who had come up under Canon Purdy), were trying to figure out the actual number of priest and bishops who had been raised up by Canon Purdy, but the best we could do was to say “probably more than 14,” since 14 had come out of Christ Church. That’s an inordinate number, by the way, mind-blowing really, considering the size of Bordentown. It’s also the sign of a healthy parish and a faithful priest.
So let’s imagine, for a moment, that one of those young men whom Canon Purdy sent off to become priests came back to visit us and preach to us after a year or two. This young man was particularly well liked and was considered a bit of a religious prodigy, and people liked to whisper that “one day he might be a bishop.” And then that young man stood up, right here in this spot, and claimed that all of Scripture was actually talking about him, that he was the Son of the Living God.
What do you think would happen? Stunned silence? A few ladies fanning themselves, the young men grumbling, Canon Purdy would have to yank him from the pulpit. That young man, so favored, so prized, the pride of the congregation was now a lost in a delusion, a lost cause, really. Either possessed by a demon or gone loose in the head, either way he would be in need of a lot of help.
You know where I’m going with this: what if it was true? St. Luke just told us the story of this very thing happening in Nazareth, another small city tucked away amongst the seats of power. Jesus had been raised there, of course, that’s why He’s called Jesus of Nazareth, and everybody knew Him. His “father” was a well respected craftsman, but died when Jesus was still learning to measure twice and cut once. His mother Mary was still around, looked after by her neighbors and the local rabbi after Jesus had left to begin His ministry. Rumor had it that Jesus had spent 40 days out in the wilderness, praying and living off what the desert offered up like His cousin John, and He looked like it, a little thinner, a little more wild.
He had been raised in that Synagogue; He had gone on all the youth retreats, had always made the trip to Jerusalem for the Passover, though they learned they had to keep an eye on Him, since He had a habit of matching wits with the powers that be.
All was fine, though, until that day at the Synagogue, until He said those words which, in the end, sealed His fate. Jesus proclaimed from the words of Isaiah that the time had come, the acceptable time was here, the year of Jubilee. Jubilee comes from the Hebrew word yobel, which is in turn derived from the word yobhel, which means ram. “The Jubilee year was announced by a blast on a shofar, an instrument made from a ram’s horn, during that year’s Yom Kippur.”1 The Septuagint rendered the Hebrew yovel as “a trumpet-blast of liberty”2
And that’s what it was, a veritable trumpet-blast of liberty. “The biblical requirement is that the Jubilee year was to be treated like a Sabbatical [sabbath] year, with the land lying fallow, but also required the compulsory return of all property to its original owners or their heirs, except the houses of laymen within walled cities, in addition to the manumission of all Israelite indentured servants.”3 Jubilee, then, was freedom, economic, personal, and spiritual freedom.
The ram’s horn has been blown for Canon Purdy; he is now in his Jubilee, free from the captivity of an uncooperative body, reveling in a liberty unknown this side of Heaven’s gate. What we don’t always realize is that the horn has been blown for us as well. Jesus came not only to preach good news, to proclaim release and recovery and liberty, but Jesus came to be our good news, our release, our recovery, our liberty. What Jesus said was true: that day the Scripture was fulfilled in their hearing, and it is fulfilled still. It is for us, then, to go into our world and proclaim that this is the acceptable time, the year of the Lord’s Jubilee.
1Wikipedia, Jubilee (Biblical), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jubilee_%28biblical%29