Text: Luke 4: 16-21
16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He 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 oppressed 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.”
I don’t think I ever really believed in a tooth fairy and to the best of my memory I don’t remember putting a lost tooth under a pillow. But we did have a tradition in my house as I was growing up, that we could put a lost tooth in a glass of water and then in the morning there may be a coin or two in the water and the tooth would be gone. Somehow I always knew it was a parental act, but it was fun just the same; perhaps being the youngest of five and subject to the views and opinions of older sisters and an older brother made me less naïve. However it happened, that is what we did when I lost a tooth.
So as a very young boy I have a memory of losing a tooth and placing it in the glass of water. The next morning with great anticipation I rushed to the counter above the sink to retrieve the glass of water. The tooth was gone, but I must admit to a certain level of disappointment; there in the bottom of the glass was just a single coin, a nickel.
I had lost other teeth and I was pretty sure I normally did better than just a nickel; even a few more pennies would have helped, but a nickel? Really? Oh, well, I thought-at least it will get five penny candies at the corner store. Like I said, this was a long time ago.
When I poured out the water to retrieve my nickel a miracle took place. The nickel shifted sideways just a little bit and hidden under the nickel was a shiny new dime! Fifteen cents! Whoa baby! How things can change in just a few seconds; my reward had just tripled in size and I was ecstatic! Part of the thrill was the discovery, thinking at first I might have been short-changed, so to speak, and then to discover in just a moment my take had tripled. It was great.
I think it is also significant to realize the treasure of the dime was hidden under the nickel-it wasn’t until the nickel was removed, that I realized there was more underneath. I think that is also true of this scripture. There is an interpretation on the surface, which is valid, but I think there is another that lies beneath the first interpretation, that many people miss. You have to look for it if you are going to find it, because it is easily obscured by the first.
Let me explain what I mean by this. When Jesus told the people in the synagogue that the scripture had been fulfilled that day, right in front of them, with their hearing, Jesus was defining his ministry. He was sending notice about what he was here to do, and what he was going to be paying attention to. If we look again at the text, we can see that Jesus said he would bring good news to the poor, he said he would proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind. He also said he would let the oppressed go free and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
So on the surface, we can see many of these things being brought out in later episodes of Jesus’ ministry. He did heal some that were blind, he did perhaps bring good news to the poor. If you were held captive by your past, as was the woman at the well for example, Jesus offered release from that captivity. If you were oppressed by disease or physical problems, Jesus also brought release from those ailments. We can see the fulfillment of this scripture in the stories and the descriptions of Jesus’ ministry all throughout the four Gospels. This is the surface interpretation; it is the interpretation which is the most obvious. It is also the point where many people quit looking for anything more…but there is more, a lot more. And we should talk about it, because it is very relevant to the situation we find ourselves in right now, here in the 21st century.
If you look closely at the text in Luke, you might discover that the same basic story appears in Matthew and Mark as well, except those two other Gospels leave out the specific scripture that Jesus quoted. The main idea of all three stories is not the scripture being fulfilled, but rather the idea that Jesus was not welcome even in the synagogue of his home town. The story is referenced in all three Gospels as “Jesus is rejected at Nazareth”-it is not labeled as “the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled”. So we need to think beyond the obvious here and look under the first interpretation and see if there is something more for us that is hidden by our original instincts. Just like the dime was hidden by the nickel.
I think many people would agree that one of the things that Jesus wanted to accomplish with his ministry was to reform Judaism. Jesus also wanted to challenge some of the ways Judaism had gotten bogged down or stuck in the mud with too many rules, too many regulations, too much tradition and too much authority in the hands of too few individuals. If we look at the text again, with reforming Judaism in our minds, it becomes very interesting.
For example, in what ways was ancient Judaism poor and what good news was Jesus offering that would offset that particular poverty? How were people blind in ancient Judaism or how were they oppressed or held captive by the laws and tradition? If you begin to think about Jesus’ ministry as a reformer of Judaism, each of these items mentioned in the Isaiah text has a direct correlation to the conditions found in ancient Judaism. They were blind, they were oppressed, they were held captive and Jesus wanted to change all of that. Jesus could see that the common experience of God for the common Jew was quite poor, it could be much richer; Jesus wanted to change that as well. Jesus wanted to bring the good news of a dynamic personal relationship with God to the common person, even to the peasant, even to women, even to Gentiles and Samaritans, prostitutes, tax collectors and thieves. Jesus wanted everyone to experience what he experienced; a personal, close encounter with the Divine.
But the real message here, the message that we have to dig for a little bit, the message that is hidden under all the others is this: we have come full circle. We no longer need Jesus to reform ancient Judaism; we need Jesus to reform Christianity. Let me say that again; we need Jesus to reform Christianity.
Now there’s a thought. Jesus the reformer, Jesus the rebel, Jesus the troublemaker is the Jesus that can reform Christianity if we let him. Christianity has become poor. We are a poor example to the rest of the world if we profess to be a Christian nation. We are poor when people feel judged or outcast or belittled; when Christianity is willing to divide a nation, or split a church or oppress certain groups of people, we are poor. But the message of Good News that Jesus brought to reform ancient Judaism is the same message that can make us rich again.
We are held captive in so many ways. But Jesus promised release from that captivity. We practice oppression on a regular basis, but Jesus can free us from that oppression. We often are blind to some of these things, but through a new lens, and a new vision of what Jesus really said and what Jesus really taught, we can see again. Our sight can be restored!
We are about to embark on a new journey as a church. We will be ministering in new ways, we will have new spiritual experiences and we will see Jesus in new ways. As we move forward, we must understand that reform is not easy; change is hard. But the freedom and the rich rewards are worth the effort.
I am certainly not Jesus; but I am your Spiritual leader. Listen to this text again with new ears. Listen again to the proclamation of where your Spiritual leader is leading, listen again for what our purpose as a church really is and what our ministry will be about. Listen-
18”The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
Bring good news to the spiritually poor, those who are starved for a meaningful spiritual experience.
He sent me to proclaim release to the captives
Release to the captives; held captive by tradition, held captive by denominational barriers, held captive by antiquated creeds and customs.
and recovery of sight to the blind.
Recovery of sight to the blind; those blinded by the bright glare of exclusiveness, those blinded by feelings of superiority, those blinded by their own self-absorption.
to let the oppressed go free,
To let the oppressed go free; those groups of individuals held in oppression because of gender or belief systems, held in oppression because of race or nationality, held in oppression because of gender orientation or even faith tradition.
19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Today, we begin a new chapter. Today we begin to really move forward. Today we are taking the first few steps toward a revitalization of our church. And yes, today-here in the 21st century-this scripture has been fulfilled by your hearing.