In this past weekend’s Gospel reading from Luke, the scene in the synagogue marks the launch of the public ministry of Jesus. Let us read the quotation from Isaiah slowly. Then, reflect on each line carefully. Which of these images captures something of what Jesus and his message has meant for us?
Jesus was filled with the Spirit and sent. He came bursting with a message to communicate. When have we had the experience of being enthused by something in that way? Who have been the people we met who had that kind of enthusiasm?
His message was addressed to those who were poor, oppressed, blind, or captives. Who are these today? In what ways have we been, or are we, among these? How has the message of Jesus been good news for us, freed us, given us new insight, or revealed God’s favor to us?
The message Jesus had was one of liberation and he told his listeners that it was being fulfilled even as they listened. It is being fulfilled even as we hear it now. If this does not resonate with us right now, when has the gospel given us an experience of liberation?
There is something about the opening sentences of Luke’s Gospel that grabs one’s attention. He is the only Gospel writer to give us information about his purpose and sources. He writes for Theophilus, whose name in Greek suggests ‘lover of God’. Theophilus may have been a patron of Luke’s, but we can also take this name to mean that Luke writes for all lovers of God, i.e. all of us.
Jesus, ‘as was his custom’ attends the service at his local synagogue. It is clear that Jesus was a faithful Jew even though he is about to have some serious run-ins with the Jewish religious leaders. This moment is one of the most powerful passages in the New Testament, as Jesus sets out his manifesto for ministry. Reading from Isaiah, Jesus tells the crowd that this passage is being fulfilled as they hear it; his ministry would be one focused on freeing people from various types of oppression.
This passage is as relevant in our world today as it was for Jesus’ time: people still await liberation, the oppressed are not free. This is not a passage read in the past: it is very much alive, a vision for all to have as Christians and to work out of. Just as the scriptures are fulfilled in Jesus, they are also fulfilled in each of our lives.
‘Although they heard you, Lord, they failed to listen. They heard only what they wanted to hear. The truth hurt them, you made them feel uncomfortable, and they rejected you … Show us how we may seek your Kingdom and help to bring peace to a troubled world.’ Tony Singleton