Sunday, January 24, 2016

Today This Scripture Has Been Fulfilled In Your Hearing . . . And In Your Doing

Third Sunday after Epiphany (Year C)
Nehemiah 8.1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 12.12-31a; Luke 4.14-21
Sunday, January 24, 2016 – St. Paul’s Emmanuel, Santa Paula

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4.21). We are not told if there was any more to Jesus’ sermon on what he read from Isaiah. For immediately after these words, we are told (although not part of today’s designated reading), “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth” (Lk 4.22a). For all we know, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” may have been the extent of his sermon. Even if this was all he said, that is enough.

Jesus is visiting his hometown of Nazareth. Not long before, he was baptized by John the Baptist in the River Jordan, where God proclaimed that Jesus is Messiah with the words, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Lk 3.22b). We do not know who might have heard this affirmation. Whether these words were only heard by Jesus, or by John and all who were present. Immediately after his baptism, Jesus then spent forty days in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil. During this time, Jesus had the opportunity to discern what it really means for him to be the Son of God, and how that will be manifest in the public ministry he is about to embark upon. And now, fresh out of this wilderness experience, with a renewed sense of his identity and mission, he returns home for a visit. While in Nazareth Jesus goes to the synagogue. He has already gained a reputation for being a gifted teacher, so he is invited to read the scripture for the day and to preach.

The passage Jesus reads is from the Prophet Isaiah:

“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.”

This passage was originally written as a message of salvation to Israel during the Exile. These words are about the good news of God’s deliverance for a people who have been oppressed, who have been taken from their home. A people who have been in exile from their own land for several generations. This was a message of hope that many viewed would be accomplished at the hands of the long-awaited Messiah.

After reading these words, Jesus says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus uses the words of Isaiah to claim his identity, purpose, and mission. This is a public announcement of the anointing by God received at his baptism, of why he was so anointed. Jesus proclaims that he himself is the fulfillment of the long-held hopes of the people for both social transformation and physical healing that the Messiah would bring. In other words, that he is the Messiah, the one who will – who is – fulfilling the provisions of Isaiah’s prophecy. That he has begun the work of salvation, not just for Israel, but for all humanity. This certainly would have been controversial, coming from a hometown boy of a small village in Galilee.

More than just an incredibly bold statement that he is the Messiah, these words of Jesus lay out a work plan for his ministry. Here at the beginning of his public ministry, the words quoted from Isaiah outline what Jesus hopes to, and will, accomplish. Proclaiming the good news of God’s love and mercy to the poor. Releasing those who are imprisoned, either physically, emotionally, or spiritually. Healing the blind and all who are sick and infirmed. Bringing justice for those who are oppressed or marginalized. Proclaiming God’s forgiveness and mercy to all. This is an assurance that all will change, ushering in a new age for the people. That the Kingdom of God is coming near. And that he is the one who will, who is, doing this.

Furthermore, he starts his sermon with the word “Today.” What he proclaims is not for some far-off future time, but for today. There is no time to wait. The time is now.

So, does Jesus intend to do this all by himself? The words he reads from Isaiah echo other statements previously made by Isaiah about true worship, about what God expects of his people. That true worship is living the commandments. Most notably, to love God and to love others. And to work for that which is nearest and dearest to God’s heart. To work to show love and mercy, to work for healing for the sick and justice for the marginalized. In this, there would have been an implicit understanding contained in Jesus’ statement that this Scripture has been fulfilled. That it is not just Jesus’ responsibility, but the responsibility of all God’s people to make this a reality.

This is where we come into the picture. And it is Paul, in his words to the Corinthians, who incorporates us into this grand re-visioning that Jesus lays out in his sermon in Nazareth. In the Epistle lesson we heard this morning, Paul is writing to the church in Corinth in response to reports of discord and disharmony among the members of that community. His is a message of the need for unity in mission and ministry if the Corinthian church is going to be effective in proclaiming the Gospel. If it is going to be effective in living the Gospel. To illustrate his point, Paul uses the metaphor of the Body of Christ, which he employs in several of his letters, but which is first developed for the benefit of the Corinthians.

Paul notes that the human body has many parts with varied and specialized functions that work in unity and harmony for the well-being of the body. That all the parts of the body are necessary, are valuable. Similarly, as humans, we are all unique individuals that are part of the community. As Christians, we too are part of a unified body – the body of those who follow Jesus, the Body of Christ in the world – which has many parts, many members. And that each member of the community, through their uniqueness, has a unique purpose within the community. And that purpose, no matter what it is, is necessary to the functioning of the overall community. We can’t all be ordained clergy. We can’t all be in the choir. We can’t all be acolytes or LEMs. Where would we be, what would we be, if we were all clergy, or choir, or acolytes and LEMs? The efficient operations of the church requires members with a variety of gifts and talents fulfilling specific purposes. What holds us together is the fact that we are united in purpose in proclaiming and living out the Gospel, the message of Christ, who is head of the Body.

Furthermore, Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians that if one member of the body, of the community, suffers, all suffer together. That being the case, whether we are the poor in need of good news, the one in need of being freed from captivity, the one who is sick and in need of being restored to health, or the one who is oppressed and in need of justice; or whether we are the ones who advocate for and work to achieve the needs and rights of these brothers and sister, this revelation of Christ’s work to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy is for all of us.

As we look at the world around us, we see that the work that Jesus outlines has not been completed. There are still captives. There are still refugees. There are still victims of violence. There are still those who are sick and who experience dis-ease. There are still those who are poor, who are homeless, who are hungry. There are still those who are deprived of education and opportunity. There are still those who are treated as other because of gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or race. The need for the work Jesus outlines continues.

In light of current conditions in our world viewed through the lens of Paul’s words to the Corinthians, Jesus’ words in Nazareth have even deeper significance. We are the Body of Christ. His message of fulfillment are words to us. When he says the work has been fulfilled, he really means that he is announcing the good news that liberation and salvation are now being made a reality through his coming among humanity. But there is still a lot of work to be done to bring about the ultimate completion of Isaiah’s prophecy, of God’s vision for his creation. There is more yet to be done for this to happen. Jesus is telling us that he continues that work through us, his Body. He needs us to bring this all-important work to completion. This is not just Jesus’ work plan for his own ministry. This is the work plan for the entire Body of Christ. For all of us who call ourselves followers of Christ. The prophecy from Isaiah that Jesus read; his words, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” – these are our marching orders. These are the work plan for how we are to live the Gospel as the Body of Christ.

In the first sentence of today’s opening collect, we prayed, “Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation.” For only then will the work of the Gospel truly be fulfilled. Not in our hearing, but in our doing.

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