It’s the Sabbath day, Saturday. We’re among the faithful of Nazareth, so we’re in the synagogue. Where else would we be on the Sabbath?
But today, the crowd is overflowing. Where have all these people been? I haven’t seen that guy in worship in years. I see him at the market all the time, but not here. What’s he doing here? Why today? What’s everyone doing here?
The Carpenter’s son has returned. There is talk that he can do miracles. A prophet from Nazareth? That’s what they say. He was baptized in the Jordan by the crazy man, John, the Baptizer. Now he’s back and you wouldn’t believe what they’re saying about him in Capernaum.
Why do all those wonderful things there when he’s from here, Nazareth? If Jesus is our prophet, why didn’t he come here first? It is just as well. He’s here today and we get to see the wonders and hear the wisdom.
This is the scene Luke sets. Your experience of Jesus depends on your circumstances. The reality of your life dictates whether or not you think Jesus brings is good news.
He was called rabbi, so the leaders of the Nazareth synagogue invited him to speak. They wanted to see what the fuss was all about. They wanted to know why people were making a big deal of the carpenter’s son.
Or, they could sense that Jesus truly possessed insight from God and these synagogue leaders wanted to bless the congregation by having a sermon from a charismatic speaker.
In worship that day, both were present. Gawkers and spectacle-seekers sat right alongside true worshipers and God-seekers. Church has always been an amalgamation of people of genuine faith, people who are confused, and people who are there because someone else forced them to come. There are always people in church who don’t know why they themselves are there. There are judgmental people who can’t see their own flaws. And there are broken people who cannot see their own beauty.
It is that way here, now. Some want to be here. Some are not sure why we’re here. Or, we’re here because we know that we need this. We know how much we need God and we hope to meet Him here. We have all of it. Every church does. And the experience of hearing Jesus – uplifting or troubling – depended and still depends on the situation of the worshiper.
Let’s start with the poorest people who were in the synagogue. The people with no money; the people with disabilities; the people of minority cultures who had no rights and rarely received justice; the people on the receiving end of the bullies’ taunts and slaps; the powerless; we begin with how they might hear Jesus. They were certainly there.
Beginning in verse 17, “[Jesus] stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the 0ppressed go free,19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor’
20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’”
He quotes Isaiah where good news is promised to the poor. Release offered to captives and freedom to the oppressed. And, he mentions recovery of sight for the blind. Everyone in that crowd would have been aware of Isaiah. This was a popular scripture with immediate application.
Blindness was a common ailment. We’re going to receive sight? Remember, we are imagining who would find Jesus’ words to be good news. The blind. And the oppressed. Most Nazareth Jews felt oppressed by Rome and by the poverty that was their life. This was uplifting. Furthermore, when is all this good news going to come about? Today! Today – with the arrival of Jesus – the scripture is fulfilled.
Essentially, Jesus is announcing Jubilee. This concept, Jubilee, comes from another scripture everyone would recognize, Leviticus 25. “The fiftieth year you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; you shall return, every one of you to property and to your family” (v.10). All debt is forgiven. If someone previously had to sell family land to get out of a financial pinch, in the Jubilee year the holder of the land restores it to the family that originally owned. If someone sold himself into slavery to cover his debts, in the Jubilee year, the person who owns him frees him.
For some people Jubilee means losing a slave or losing the advantage of being the only landowner in a community of poor tenant farmers. If Jesus’ words in fact come to pass those who are in a superior social position because of their wealth lose their edge. The neighbor they looked down upon is now at their level, looking them in the eye.
Jesus says, with his arrival, Jubilee has come. What did the slave owners think when they heard this? What about the debtholders? Were there any curious Roman soldiers or officials in the crowd, just there to check out the Jewish worship practices? Did they enjoy Jesus’ reading of Isaiah’s line about freedom from oppressors?
Luke tells us everyone was amazed by Jesus’ preaching. That would have been the perfect time to do the mic drop. Jesus exits stage left to sound of deafening applause. But, he didn’t do that. Jesus kept preaching. The amazement quickly turned into something else. He could see it in their eyes. They heard he had worked miracles. The synagogue was packed because they wanted to see one!
“No prophet is accepted in his hometown” he told them (4:24). Then Jesus regaled the congregation with more stories they would know all too well, stories of the great prophets, Elijah and Elisha. In both cases, the men of God rendered God’s miraculous provision to people other than Jews.
All those amazed people in the Nazareth synagogue put it all together.
He’s known as a miracle worker and he’s from here. He’s ours, but we stand condemned because we don’t welcome the poor. We don’t love and help the blind. We may be oppressed, but we step on the backs of those who have it worse than us. He holds himself up like Elijah and Elisha. The great prophets. And he judges us. He’ll help others and he’ll criticize us.
“When they heard this,” Luke writes in verse 28, “All in the synagogue were filled with rage.” A mob action happens next as they drag Jesus to a cliff intent on throwing him to his death.
I don’t think there were any slaves or blind people or debtors in the lynch mob. All those at the bottom, those who live in the gutter, heard Jesus promise them that his arrival meant rescue from their pitiable condition. No, this crowd that is seeing red and breathing murder are those who got upset when Jesus said he came to heal and liberate and release. Not only did they not need what Jesus offered, but they did not like it that Jesus would welcome and care for the lowest in their community.
You see how our circumstance colors how we hear Jesus? Is his coming good news for us? Are we happy when he pronounces Jubilee for those who suffer under the crushing load of debt? What would economic justice cost us? That depends.
If you are among the poor, the blind, the oppressed whom Jesus is here to save, then economic justice costs you your pain. If you are among the wealthy in the world, and this includes the American middle class, so most people here, then Jesus’ announcement of Jubilee costs you – us – our prestige. We give up our advantage.
We’ve been talking about the way Jesus’ arrival surprised people. Maybe the surprise to us is that Jesus didn’t come for us. At least, he didn’t come for those who see themselves as “the have’s.”
We don’t discover Jesus – as one here to save us – until we understand that we are as weak and as pitiable as the homeless man who has not changed clothes in months because he can’t. We are as powerless as the undocumented immigrant who came here as a child and feels adrift in danger all time. We are as helpless as the Syrian who has not eaten in days and is unable to move from the building he is in because he’s complete boxed in by ISIS and Syrian government forces.
The most accomplished professional, the department chair, the lead surgeon stand before God as naked, exposed, and impotent as these examples I’ve shared. Common sense would say that’s completely ridiculous. It is absurd to juxtapose the leaders among us with society’s dregs. But Jesus came to bring good news to the poor, the blind, the captive, and the oppressed. We cannot understand or receive the blessing of God’s salvation until we understand ourselves as poor, blind, captive, and oppressed.
Presuming we want the blessing of God, how do we do this? First, we see sin for what it is – that which utterly destroys our souls. In our popular culture, sin is something that elicits giggles. Sin sell. Movies with the highest box office sales are the ones rated ‘R’ for violence, sex, strong language, and nudity. In our culture, sin is celebrated and purity is mocked. We have to see sin for what it is – a killer. We acknowledge sin, admit we cannot escape, and turn to Jesus as our only hope for rescue. In sin, we are at the bottom until Jesus lifts us out.
Second, we stand with those people society would say are on the ladder’s lowest rungs. A moment ago, I used the word “dregs.” From where God is standing, there are no dregs. The refugee, the illegal alien, the mentally ill, the poorest of the poor – these are all lost sheep. They are beautiful people made in the image of God. Jesus leaves the 99 healthy ones sitting comfortably in the sanctuary of HillSong Church. He leaves us to go out and announce his Isaiah-fulfilling, freedom-proclaiming, belly-filling, life-giving news to the homeless and the downtrodden. He came for them.
If we want to receive what Jesus gives and experience it as good news, we admit our sin, and we sit arm-in-arm with them. No wonder people in Synagogue crowd wanted to throw him off a cliff. They came for miracles and got slapped by God’s truth.
In Luke 4, God’s truth slaps us with his truth this morning. And the truth is there is greater joy in love and in sharing love than there is in prestige and wealth. Do we have the faith to believe that is true?
What do we do now? That’s up to you. You can clench your teeth in anger. You can bow before the cross and open your heart to the Holy Spirit. You can start thinking right now about who you will love this week. What disadvantaged person will you stand with this week?
We have heard Jesus’ words. Each of us can decide who we are and then decide if this is good news.