Reading for Third Sunday after Epiphany: Luke 4:14-21
Peace be with you!
Society has an image of what individuals should look like and how they should act. Magazines convey an idealized physical appearance and tell people what roles they should take on within society and the family and how they should behave. Teenage girls are shown beauty products and the latest fashion in magazines marketed toward them, whereas magazines with outdoor activities and beautiful women are used to target teenager boys. The gender roles, right or wrong, are defined by society.
In ancient times, the Jews had an image of what the Messiah would be like and would do on their behalf to free them from the Roman Empire. The Jews felt the Messiah should be willing to fight against the enemies of the Jews and give them the “Promised Land” as the Lord gave it to the Israelites when he led them out of Egypt. The Jews are expecting Jesus to physically free them from the Roman Empire. Instead Jesus is going to psychosocially and spiritually free the Jews from the darkness and their sins.
The author of the Gospel of Luke gives us small details that are easy to miss. Jesus goes to the synagogue in Nazareth in his hometown, is given the scroll, and reads Isaiah 61:1-2 (Luke 4:16-17).
“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” (Luke 4:18-19 NRSV).
After he reads the passage, Jesus sits down (Luke 4:20) for a moment before getting back up to preach (Luke 4:21a). He sits down to reflect on the passage. How often does your pastor jump right into his sermon after the Gospel is read? How often do you read something and move to the next thing without reflecting on what it means? Jesus sits down to ponder on the passage, to pray for wisdom from God the Father, and to gather his thoughts. The simple pause between the reading and the sermon or any pause between any two activities can provide a moment for individual(s) to reflect on what just happened and to prepare for what is about to take place.
This pause allows Jesus to reflect on what the reading means to him and what he needs to say to the assembly in the synagogue. Jesus understands the Isaiah passage as his job description as the Messiah. Jesus understands he has been filled with the Holy Spirit since his baptism. Jesus has come into the world to release captives, to heal the sick and disabled, and to set the oppressed free (Luke 4:18b). He will overcome the boundaries the world sets for us by getting rid of the distinctions that divide us—Jews and Gentiles, males and females, slaves and masters, disabled and nondisabled, sinner and saint, and so on. This is what it means to be set free by God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. God loves us unconditionally—almost to a fault, because he wants to be in a relationship with us and know us on a personal level. When we are baptized, we become members of the body of Jesus Christ where we are valued the same no matter what roles we take in accomplishing God’s plan in the world (1 Corinthians 12:14-17). God’s family is inclusive and does not withhold membership from anyone as long as they accept Jesus Christ as their Savior.
Jesus understands what the Jews expect of him, but God the Father has other plans for him. Jesus will set the Jews (and anyone else who follows him) free by releasing them of their sins through his crucifixion, death, and resurrection. Jesus has a hefty job to do. He has to turn the hearts of the Jews toward God the Father. Leviticus 25:8-17 instructs the Israelites about the year of Jubilee, in which individuals are released from their debts and slaves are released every fifty years. The Jubilee year is a year of deliverance. Jesus brings the spirit of the Jubilee year into the world by delivering us from our past, present, and future sins through his crucifixion, death, and resurrection. This is what overcomes worldly boundaries and barriers and makes us all children of God. This is what unites and connects us with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
The Jews do not understand how Jesus, the Messiah, will deliver them from their sins and allow them to be in a relationship with God the Father again. The bonds the world has on the Jews will be broken, and they will be lifted up to be with God the Father. Jesus’s crucifixion, death, and resurrection will free the Jews beyond their imaginations. He will bring light into the darkness, feed the hungry, and find the lost. Isaiah 61:1-2 will be fulfilled by Jesus the Messiah.
We may not always understand how much we need Jesus to deliver us, how much we need to be in a relationship with God the Father, and how much God loves us just as we are. God overcomes the world’s boundaries by coming to this planet in flesh and bones and experiencing our pain and suffering in order to free us and to deliver us into his kingdom. We do not have to prove anything to God the Father—he does that for us through J esus Christ. All God asks of us is that we love him, believe in him, and let him lead us.
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for loving us so deeply that you give us what we need, not what we want. Help us to understand Jesus came to redeem us of our sins through his crucifixion, death, and resurrection. Remind us that we need your love when we are in the wilderness, especially when we are lost and confused. Thank you for redeeming us of our sins. Amen.