The Third Sunday after the Epiphany
27 January 2019
Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Saviour Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and all the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvellous works; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Corinthians 12:12-27
Today we return to the world the Gospel of Luke. We have heard his infancy narratives and the story of tween Jesus preaching in the temple. We flash forward twenty years or so and we met John the Baptist and learnt of Jesus’ baptism, immediately after which he was led into the wilderness for forty days to be tempted by what Luke calls, “the devil.”
There Jesus faced three temptations: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread;” “If you, then will worship me, [all the kingdoms of the world] shall all be yours;” “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here” and demonstrate that God will save you from death. Jesus was challenged to prove his identity and prove his power and he was tempted with riches and further power if only he would worship Satan, that is to say betray his Father and align himself with the powers that stand in opposition to God, in opposition to justice and love. All of this Jesus refuses. He does not have to prove who he is and perform parlour tricks and he most certainly will not deny and betray God. Jesus shows himself truly the Son of God by staying true to himself and to his purpose. He proved that God’s pleasure in him, his faith in him, announced at his baptism, is not misplaced.
All that has led to this moment—his baptism and temptation—energised Jesus, showed him full of the power of the Holy Spirit, made him ready to preach to the world and demonstrate actively the commitment to Love and justice he showed in his encounter with Satan. Jesus can now return to Galilee and begin his active ministry, which he inaugurates in the synagogue at “Nazareth, where he had been brought up.” Luke very purposefully records this beginning as teaching, not in the Greek sense, but in the Jewish sense as the public interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures and the disclosure of prophesy, specifically that a new age has been inaugurated, the messianic age.
Here, Luke appears to have dropped us into the middle of an actual synagogue service.1 The Torah portion already having been read, it is time for the reading from the Prophets. “And [Jesus] stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.’” It is just as likely that Jesus chose the passage, suggested by Luke’s description that he “found the place where it is written,” as it was the appointed lesson for the day.2 Either way, using this text from Isaiah, Jesus lays out the agenda of the Kingdom of God:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me 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.
Here is summarised concisely and powerfully the substance of Jesus’ identity, his ministry and mission, of God’s messianic age, now begun in Jesus.
First and foremost, the Kingdom of God is a radical recasting of the priorities of the world. It is a shift away from centring the experience of the rich and powerful, of plutocratic businessmen and military leaders. At its core is good news for the poor, and not just the economically impoverished, but for all those who have been marginalised, left behind.3 This new age will see the release of those who have been imprisoned through the injustice of civil authority. It will provide relief to all those who are oppressed and healing to those in distress.
Jesus proclaims vindication for all those who, in this age, have been shut out, who are suffering at the hands of the remote, self-interested ruling class. Indeed, it is not a stretch to say that in our age we understand what that kind of suffering looks and feels like, we see it around us each and every day both in the formal and informal systems that govern our world, and in the lives of individuals we encounter daily on the streets of our city. The Kingdom of God will overturn the priorities of empire and bring justice. The coming Kingdom of God will provide healing and restitution. Literally and figuratively we will see with new eyes, hear with new ears.
This age was inaugurated, Luke tells us, in this synagogue in Jesus’ own boyhood home of Nazareth. But we know what happens to prophets who preach this kind of news in their home town. People do not want to hear it. Those who benefit from oppressive systems, who are fine with the status quo do not want to be told that God is at work upsetting that system, even if the result is to be the victory of Love over death. Such prophets are rejected and face rebuke. Jesus knows this and still he presses on with his message, with his preaching, teaching, and his ministry, all of which demonstrate out in the real world the enactment of his prophesy. In this way, Jesus was correct when he said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Yet, we aren’t all the way there yet. The work proclaimed at the synagogue in Nazareth has not reached its consummation. The evils Jesus decries, and personified by the devil who tempted him, are all too present today. But we should not lose heart. We have been given a piece of this work. While only God can fully realise the Kingdom, we have been incorporated, bodily, into this project. The Year of the Lord has been proclaimed and Ezra’s call still holds true for us today: “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to him for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
We are to rejoice in the work, proclaiming ourselves, in our own voices, good news to the poor, working with those who suffer, with prisoners, and with the oppressed. We do this as members of one Body, for in baptism and our sharing of the sacraments, we are made one with God and with each other. As Paul says, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” One with God in Christ, we, too, are called to take out the Scriptures and “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.” And more than that, we are, as members of the Body of Christ, to act in our private and public lives in ways that are consistent with that message.
As I have said many times, this work is not easy and it is not popular. But, let us not succumb to the temptation Jesus himself resisted when offered earthly power and riches if only he would abandon the works of love and justice. We, too, have the power to resist, we have the example of Christ himself, and in that resistance, in our commitment to love and justice, as very members of the Body of Christ, we are supported. We do not do this work alone. We are part of a movement that, cooperating with God, can help become manifest, in large and small ways, the upheaval Jesus declares. We have been given the authority to be that part of the body, the voice, that declares that “acceptable year of the Lord,” and to be those other members, hands and feet, heart and breath, that cooperate in making love and justice visible and active in the world.
Andrew Charles Blume✠
New York City
The Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle, 25 January 2019
2Bovon 2002, 153.
3Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, Sacra Pagina, 3 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991), 79.
© 2019 Andrew Charles Blume