I wonder whether you recognise these statements as you read them …. could tell me where these words come from?
“Britain only succeeds when working people succeed. We plan to reward hard work, share prosperity and build a better Britain.”
“Strong Leadership, a Clear Economic Plan a Brighter and more Secure Future.”
They come respectively from the 2015 Labour and Tory Manifestos.
Who first spoke these words?
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, the day of vengeance of our God.”
It wasn’t Jesus, but the prophet Isaiah!
These words come from the latter part of the book of Isaiah. They are the prophet=s manifesto for his ministry among the people after the exile in Israel. A place of hope and new life. They follow the passages that we know as those of the suffering servant. The one who Isaiah sees as taking the sins and problems of the people onto his own shoulders.
In our Gospel passage Jesus speaks out these same words as his own manifesto. In hearing those words read, people listening to him will immediately have recognised their context in the scroll of Isaiah. They should have understood that in claiming these verses as his own manifesto, Jesus was not only taking the place of the suffering servant of Isaiah but also the predicted and long awaited Servant of the Lord.
His own kith and kin in Nazareth listened to him as he spoke but singularly failed to hear what he was really saying. They were impressed with how he spoke. However, their failure to understand what he was really saying is obvious. They knew him so well, “this local boy made good!” At least they thought they did. You might be able to imagine their response – the knowing nudges, the delighted smiles as they turned to one another and said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”
And we heard Jesus response. He immediately sets about correcting their wrong perceptions. It is as though he says; “No, no, a million times no! This is not the son of Joseph but the Son of God.”
They can only see him in the setting of their own village, they want him to do here in Nazareth just what he has done in Capernaum. Their vision cannot see beyond the confines of their own village. “Listen,” says Jesus, “I have come with a message of good news not for Nazareth only, but for all Galilee, indeed for all Israel, and – although this will scandalise you – if Israel turns out to be as blinkered as narrow-minded as you people of Nazareth, then Israel will forfeit the good news, while the rest of the world will receive it.”
The praiseworthy words of Jesus’ manifesto suddenly seem to be anathema to the people of Nazareth. Their pride in their local son, turns to rage; “Who on earth does he think he is. What right does he have to speak in this way? Not only is he rebuking us but he is also challenging the very tennets of our faith. The Messiah, saviour of the whole world – heresy, blasphemy, the devil’s work.”
Admiration turns to fury. They determine to kill Jesus.
The Gospel is good news not only for the Jews but for the whole world. This is the message that Luke continues to develop throughout his gospel. Good news for us! And it is good to give time to hearing once again the message that God’s grace extends to us here on the very edge of Europe, far from the places Jesus knew and loved in Palestine.
It’s true, this is a message of grace and hope. There are no buts, ifs or maybes associated with the breadth of God’s love. None at all.
However, this story itself carries a but, a very big but. … You see now, today, here, the story expects us not to stand on the sidelines watching the action but to ask who we should most identify with.
It would be lovely to be able to say; “O, we are the Gentiles Jesus’ refers to – isn’t it good to be included in God’s love!”
Clearly, however, Luke does not just intend us to have a warm fuzzy feeling as we read his gospel. He wants to challenge us. Luke intends that we, the people of God, identify ourselves with the people of Nazareth, the ones who want to domesticate Jesus …. Christ is ours, he is one of us, we have grown up with him, we have seen him at work.
Luke wants to challenge us to move us on.. He, and Jesus, wants us to join him in implementing Christ’s manifesto.
You see, Jesus sees us not as voters but as members of his party, he expects us to be activists, he expects us to share his values. To understand that ministry for Jesus is not just about feeling safe and secure in our faith. To understand that ministry is about: “preaching good news to the poor; proclaiming freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind; releasing the oppressed, and proclaiming the Lord’s favour.” To understand that we have to work to make God’s kingdom a reality here where we live and work.
And sadly, if we are not prepared to move forward with Jesus, to work with his manifesto, he will find those who are willing to do so. He will move on. Just as he walked through the crowd at the top of the hill he will refuse our agenda and pursue his own.
So let’s listen again to Jesus’ manifesto and as I read it out, let’s commit ourselves again to serving him in our own community.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”