What just happened? Did you hear that? Were you paying attention?
Jesus just said these amazing things. And he said it here and there and everywhere.
Then he said it in his home town.
What he said was, "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, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
When Jesus said these things the people in Nazareth were knocked out. They were stunned. They were undoubtedly thrilled. They complimented him and spoke well about him. After all, Jesus had just laid down some extremely important news.
Let's take a minute to look at what he said.
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me" is a proclamation of sorts that we would not expect to hear in this day and age. Jesus is quoting Isaiah Chapter 61 and he is making some of the same points that Isaiah made: that God is pleased with us, God loves us, God is on our side.
"...because he has anointed me..." is reflective of his baptism and God's pronouncement at that baptism that "This is my son, the beloved; with him I am well pleased." God's pleasure is for the people living in Jesus' time a fairly remote concept, likely reserved for only a few. Yet here is one of their own townspeople. There is a hope dawning, wouldn't you say? Maybe the people of Nazareth are starting to realize God actually cares about them.
Jesus is telling them God anointed him "to bring good news to the poor." We know that when Jesus is talking about the poor he isn't just talking about those with little money or no food, He's talking about them, sure, but he's also talking about those who are poor in spirit, those who need hope and faith. He came to help them, as well. No one is left out.
Jesus then said God sent him "to proclaim release to the captives." Now maybe the people thought he was only talking about the people in jail. You know, down the street at Dutchess County Jail, for example. And they, certainly, Jesus came to free.
But you and I both know that Jesus understood captivity in a much broader sense. In those days, for example, a person might be a slave. They may be so indebted to someone else that they become their slave to pay off the debt. There are other forms of captivity, of course. Perhaps someone is in a dead end marriage. Maybe someone is burdened by poor fields. Or sickness, or depression. There are many, many forms of captivity.
Now what did Jesus come to do?
Jesus came to proclaim release.
I don't know if this is where the expression "Let go and let God" came from, but it might as well have been. Because Jesus was saying to every single person who heard him that they did not have to let their lives be defined by their troubles. He wanted to give people spiritual freedom to move beyond their aches and their heartaches, their resentments and their oppression.
In a linguistic twist Jesus said he was sent to declare recovery of sight to the blind knowing full well that all the people who lacked vision would not be receiving that kind of sight. But Jesus was telling people that the love of God meant that they could see things more clearly in their minds with or without vision if they had spiritual health. Eyeballs that did not work were one thing, but the unwillingness of people to see God's goodness was a much greater concern.
All these forms of oppression, both the externally and internally generated, were declared disabled by Jesus, freeing people who had suffered and struggled with them for much of their lives.
And all this, Jesus said, was to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
Well no wonder the crowd was stunned. No wonder they marveled at his words. What grace! What vision!
As we are gathered here today we also recognize the power, the potency, of Jesus' words. Like the people of Nazareth we are moved by them, thrilled even. We also have a profound advantage over the people of Nazareth: we believe these things are true. Unlike the people of Nazareth we have experienced these things in our own lives as our faith has helped us through all manner of struggle and pain. We believe it.
Now I don't want to steal next week's thunder, but the people of Nazareth didn't hold onto these notions of God's loving them and freeing them for very long. I guess they felt they knew better. But after all, Jesus was just getting started. We're only in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, and Jesus was baptized only on the previous page of my Bible. So these themes will be developed much more fully in the coming months.
Fortunately for you and me, however, we can live into the ideas that Jesus proclaimed without waiting for more information.
When Jesus entered the synagogue and spoke to the people there was an question of authority for the leaders of the synagogue or perhaps Jesus contemporaries. It was not clear. And that's where we'll explore next week.
But you and I have the benefit of knowing a little more about what was going on then and what has transpired since and we can believe Jesus' proclamation without hesitation. Jesus was proclaiming a message of peace to people who had never known any and couldn't imagine any.
We have our struggles, but we enjoy the personal connection to God and to Jesus that enables us to experience the very sensations Jesus proclaimed in today's Gospel:
Release from captivity, that is, when we're stuck; sight when we're blinded, unable to see the truth of situations; freedom from oppression whether we cause it ourselves or we find ourselves struggling with externally imposed oppression.
Let's think about these things. When are we captives? When we can't ignore the 24-hour news cycle? When we say our family members drive us crazy? When our government can't get it together? Are we captivated by these things and others? Isn't it often that we voluntarily submit to such captivity?
There are other forms of captivity such as substance abuse and addiction, pornography and domestic abuse, cycles of abuse and despair that captivate both the oppressor and the oppressed.
When are we blinded? What keeps us from seeing clearly, even when the seeing is actually having clear thinking? When do we find ourselves unwilling to consider another viewpoint? When do we refuse to see another's point of view or even give it serious consideration?
Jesus offers us freedom, if only we will turn to God and give ourselves to God, moment by moment if necessary. That moment to moment thing is the key in my experience. We can only turn to God in the moment. We can't turn to God last Tuesday or in an hour and a half. It is only in the moment that God is available. So we need to keep our dependence on God in the present moment.
When Molly and I were living in Germany I had a number of friends who were reading a book titled, "Jetzt!" J-E-T-Z-T. It means Now. The whole idea of the book was that we live only in the moment. We can't do anything at any time other than now. There's an old cliché, "The past is history and the future's a mystery," but it also happens to be a truism.
The more we include God in our present moments, in the Now for you and the Now for me, the quicker we realize, that is, we receive, these gifts Jesus promised his neighbors in Nazareth two millenia ago.
Thanks be to God. Amen
A sermon preached at the Annual General Meeting on the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Jan. 27, 2019, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Poughkeepsie NY by The Rev. Tyler Jones, Rector