“It happens all the time. Jews do it….Christians do it. A group of people, gathered to worship the living God, have someone read to them from an old book. Their reasons are the same: the ancient writings speak of how their ancestors in the faith experienced the One who started and sustains the world and who took initiatives to make them a people. Further, they acknowledge that they are still in living relationship with that God, who deserves their thanks, listens and responds to their petitions, and takes profound interest in what they do with their lives. People read the old book to know who they are and what they are doing.
“The First and Third Readings for this Sunday highlight that recurring situation. We have the priest Ezra, addressing the people of Judah some eighty years after the return from the Babylonian captivity, still working to restore a common life around a reconstructed Temple and Holy City. He is reading an updated version of the people’s constitution—the Law, or Torah. In the Gospel reading we hear the voice of Luke himself introducing his version of the story of Jesus, a fresh edition required by the community of his day. Further, one of the episodes Luke chooses for special treatment is the scene of Jesus’ homecoming in the synagogue of Nazareth, where Jesus himself, paralleling Ezra, reads from Scripture and asserts its relevance for “today”—the present moment of his community of listeners, and, for Luke, the present moment of his readers, then and now.
“This is one of those occasions when Scripture speaks of Scripture, when the Bible becomes a kind of user’s manual about itself.
“The scene in Luke is stunning. A well-known member of this small village (population, archaeologists estimate, around 150), the town bachelor and craftsman, returns with a reputation for healing and acting like an old-time prophet. He shows up at the synagogue, opens the scroll of Isaiah to the place we call chapter 61, reads the first-person statement of a prophetic figure claiming to be anointed and sent by the Lord for a work of liberation and healing, and boldly applies that passage to himself.”1
This is where the trouble started, of course. Up until this moment, Jesus was doing pretty well – Luke tells us that He “was glorified by all.” Jesus was a hometown boy made good: His teaching was remarkable, there were rumors of miracles; He was a budding star in the religious circles – if He would just write a book and get a talk show, Nazareth would be a boomtown for sure.
But then Jesus went and did it: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” What could He possibly have meant by that? Without knowing the backstory, it doesn’t sound so bad. Who doesn’t want someone to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord?
That’s all good stuff, but there’s the issue of agency: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me” to do all these things.
Anointed me. Anointed me, to the exclusion of all others. The crowd was puzzled because anyone could proclaim good news, but not anyone can actually be the good news. Only one person can be release and recovery and liberty, and certainly it couldn’t be that guy.
But it was and is, and everything we do here is because having heard His voice in Scripture, having found His peace in this place, we can follow no one else.
As I was writing this sermon, the reports of the coming doom of a snowstorm popping up on my computer, I thought of the Beatles singing “Father McKenzie writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear.” But you are here, and having heard the Scripture, having responded with joy, I pray that today and always you will find release, recovery, and liberty of Christ.
1Dennis Hamm, SJ http://liturgy.slu.edu/3OrdC012416/theword_hamm.html