God has used the passage we had read out to us today to give me very specific guidance in my life. I used to work as the Youth Coordinator for Auckland presbytery, way back in the 1990’s. I was in the job four years and I asked the trust that I was employed through to have the job paid on the same basis as an ordained minister. It was an attempt to have youth ministry more fully recognised as a valid ministry in the church. What I didn’t foresee was that as the conditions changed that the trust would re-advertise the job. And I could apply if I wanted… which I did… At the same time Jim Wallace from St John’s in Rotorua was the speaker at the labour weekend camp out at Hunua… He just happened to be looking for a parish assistant/ youth pastor and suggested I apply, which I did, as a back-up plan. Kris and I decided if we were offered the Youth coordinators job we’d stay put. However we got a ring from Jim down in Rotorua who said that they wanted us to go down there and they wanted a reply from us, before the group up in Auckland were due to finish their process. We actually had to make a decision.
AS I was praying I felt to open my bible to look for guidance and God lead me to this passage in Luke 4. Specifically the part where Jesus says ‘A prophet is without honour in their own country’ and talking about Elijah and the widow of Zaraphath and the Elisha and Naaman the Syrian leper. I could have served God and ministered in either place but I sensed God was calling us away from what is my home, Auckland to go to Rotorua…We had six very fruitful and rewarding years there till we sensed God’s call to ordained ministry and moved to Dunedin for training.
On a personal level that is a way this passage has helped me follow Jesus but as we carefully study this passage there is so much more for us about following his footsteps. We are systematically working our way through Jesus ministry in Luke gospel. In the passage we had today we are told Jesus went about teaching and here we are let into what that teaching was like. At the beginning of Jesus ministry he shares from the book of Isaiah a passage that encapsulates his mission, in modern business speak you could say it’s Jesus Mission statement’. But it also challenges us about how we respond and react to Jesus, because Jesus teaching leads to his home coming being very hostile.
Last week we followed Jesus out into the wilderness and through trials and temptations. We saw that Jesus faced the same kind of temptations we do and that he overcame them with the same resources that we have from God. We saw that it was the Holy Spirit that filled Jesus at his baptism that lead Jesus out into the wilderness and now leads Jesus to galilee in power to begin his ministry. The Holy Spirit will always led us to minister to other people, and will empower us to do so.
The focus of this early passage is Jesus teaching ministry in galilee, but in what Jesus says to his hometown crowd about them expecting to see what Jesus had done in Capernaum, he was also doing miracles, healing people. Two stories of Jesus healing ministry follow right on from the passage we read today as well. Darryl Bock summarises ‘His message of love was supported by his compassion’. Both are done in the Power of the Holy Spirit… The manifesto of the Holy Spirit is supported by the manifestations of the Holy Spirit.
The setting for what we are looking at is the synagogue in Jesus hometown, where Jews had gathered for public worship, prayer and to hear the scriptures read and expounded. People will often say do I need to go to church to be a follower of Jesus and one the ways I respond to that is that it was Jesus custom to go to worship and pray and hear the scriptures with others. It is a model for us
At the heart of this passage is the reading from the book of Isaiah. Philip Yancy in his book ‘the Jesus I never knew’ summarises Jesus teaching as a revolution of God’s grace. That is bought out here in this reading that Jesus said was being fulfilled in the hearing of the people gathered in that place. It is the mission God has anointed Jesus to do. To bring good news to the poor proclaim freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free and proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
It is interesting that historically this has been taken in two different ways. Some will see it as Jesus ministry in spiritual terms. The poor are those who are spiritual poor. Those who are prisoners and oppressed spiritually by sin and death can be set free and forgiven and liberated. The acceptable year of the Lord is referring to the year of jubilee in the Old Testament a time in Israel that was to be about all debts being cancelled, land being restored to their original owners, the land being left fallow to heal and be reinvigorated. We can see that in terms of forgiveness and restoring what the brokenness of this world has inflicted on them.
Others see here a very real call for societal change. It is Good news for the poor that God cares for them and welcomes them to come to him. The poor in Jewish thought were not only those who were physically poor but those of low social status who were marginalised and ostracised. That God’s sides with the oppressed and dispossessed to bring justice, to see real change made debt cancelled a just use and distribution of resources.
Recovery of sight for the blind is seen in both ways as physical healing and also those who are spiritually blind receiving sight.
Both sides are correct in understanding this passage. It is about salvation and it is about social justice. It is about the holistic grace of God: The spiritual poor and the physical poor receiving good news of acceptance and blessing and care from God; The politically and the spirit prisoners receiving grace and mercy and justice; The oppressed finding real freedom in Christ; the redistribution of wealth; The they didn’t hold on what they had but gave it to those in need of the Acts 2 church. It is the faith and works that we saw in James, that our faith calls us to care and love the poor both by sharing our faith with them and our resources. In the prologue to his gospel Luke tells us that he is giving an orderly account and the last encounter with Jesus before his entrance into Jerusalem is with the tax collector Zacchaeus. You know the short guy up the tree that we remember from children’s stories. Zacchaeus is presented as the prime example of what it means to respond to Christ. He is the example of what Jesus ministry and this revolution of grace is all about. He is ostracised considered cut off from God, caught up in the oppressive roman tax collection system. He meets Jesus and his life is transformed, he offers to make restitution for all the money he has stolen, and he gives half his money to the poor. Meeting Jesus having Jesus minister the love and grace of God into our lives brings transformation and calls us to be about God’s justice and mercy. At the end of this encounter Jesus restates his mission statement he’s had three years to think and reflect on it and he boils it down to ‘the son of man has come to seek and save the lost’ Zacchaeus shows us the extent of that mission just before Jesus passion and the scope of that mission in terms of societal change and justice as well.
The challenging thing about this passage however is how Jesus audience responded to what he is saying. They are amazed but somehow they become hostile and determined to do away with Jesus.
At first they are amazed at what they are hearing. In the gospel Jesus is acknowledged as speaking with great authority, great insight. They wonder if this could be the same Jesus that had grown up amongst them. I’ve gone back to the church I grew up in a few times to preach and part of the response I get is this warm acceptance, here is one of our own made good. They are probably surprised that the long haired, barefooted, scruffy monosyllabic grunting teenager has changed and is a passable preacher. I wonder if some of us don’t have an image of who Jesus is, in this case it was “isn’t he the son of joseph”, and we are offended and upset when Jesus steps out of that image and understanding. Jesus does not fit comfortably with the religious ideas and constructs that we place on him. He is about the purposes and mission of God, a revolution of grace that does tend to call us out to our comfort zones. Philip Yancy mentions the three different Jesus he had met in his life, I’m paraphrasing here … as he was growing up the Sunday school Jesus, meek and mild, the university radical Jesus, untamed and wild, the suburban Jesus, tamed and styled and that as he looked again at Jesus he found someone more wonderful & more challenging than that.
Secondly, in Jesus use of the proverb ‘physician heal yourself’ Jesus sees that the people were looking for Jesus to do the same things that he had done in Capernaum… They wanted to see the spectacular, and the healings. They wanted the manifestations of the Holy Spirit but they didn’t want the manifesto, the revolution of grace and justice to those outside their understanding of who was acceptable to God. They were happy to see Jesus as a home town hero, but not see Jesus for who he was God’s special anointed one, the messiah. We can be like that as well. We can turn the gospel into being about Jesus meeting our needs, and yes Jesus dos care, Jesus is able to provide, Jesus does hear our prayer, Jesus does heal and provide. We can think it revolves around the Just us of God and not the justice of God… The me-ssion of Jesus and not the mission of God.
Lastly, the people in the synagogue were hostile to the fact that Jesus revolution of grace went beyond the boundaries of their understanding of God’s blessing. The Jews were looking for their messiah who would free them politically from roman rule, would establish them as the rich and powerful and punish and defeat all their enemies. But Jesus wasn’t that kind of messiah, the revolution of grace goes beyond that. The passage from the book of Isaiah is part of a series of God’s call to Israel to be about caring for the poor, being a light to the nations to the nations of what God’s rule and nature is like by the way they care for those who are disadvantaged. Jesus identifies with the prophets of old who called Israel to that and were rejected and killed and he points them to the example of God’s grace shown in Elijah and Elisha in 1 and 2 kings. It would have angered His audience because this was a time of great apostasy of Israel, it is the reign of Ahab and Jezebel who led Israel astray. But also it was an example of the kind of grace Jesus is talking about. There was great need in Israel during the time of famine, and here were many lepers in Israel, but God showed his mercy to the widow at Zarephath, outside of whom the religious people thought was ‘in’ as it were, a woman and a widow and a gentile. Cared for and miraculously provided for. Naamun was a Syrian leper, unclean and untouchable, a gentile and what’s worse an enemy of Israel. What riled Jesus audience wasn’t the grace of God so much as the fact that God was showing grace to the wrong people in their eyes. Isn’t that as challenging for us today?
It calls us out to show love and care to those outside to be about the mission and grace of Jesus…to offer the hope of Christ… The narrative finishes with the crowds taking Jesus to a cliff to throw him off. Ironically it is the very situation he had found himself in during his temptations. In this case God does save him and protect him. The temptation as to put Jesus to the test, but here we see God able to protect those who are about his purposes. Jesus time had not yet come… We often want to know God’s presence and protection and provision, but it is as we move out into God’s mission and purposes that we will see them.