Of all the texts that describe Jesus’ mission, the sermon preached in Nazareth most clearly reveals its heart as justice. Luke 4 narrates his return to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, having successfully resisted the seductive alternatives presented by the power of evil.
Attending the synagogue, as was his custom, he offers a vision of God’s favor—but not exclusively on them, which is why when the message sinks in, they seek to hurl him off the cliff. The hometown folk had imagined that the renown accruing to Jesus would burnish their image, also.
Actually, to their thinking he struck all the wrong notes in this inaugural sermon. Choosing his own text rather than following the prescribed rotation, he read the Isaiah scroll in Hebrew and then offered an interpretation in Aramaic.
Because of the anointing of the Spirit, he proclaimed fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, but not in the messianic persona they had envisioned; he did not proclaim national deliverance, but deliverance of oppressed persons. Further, he failed to include vengeance against Israel’s enemies; he read Scripture in such a way as to declare the wideness of God’s mercy, which included Gentiles. Including the story of Naaman the Syrian made this point incisively. It was hardly a comforting little homily!
What might Jesus say at my congregation if he was the visiting preacher? Yesterday was the annual meeting for the church where I participate. We reviewed the events of the past year, assessed the financial health of the church, and voted the 2013 budget. We thanked God and congratulated ourselves that we ended in the black. I think would have affirmed the growing stewardship of members; however, I wonder if he might probe how much we spent on ourselves and how much we spent to enact justice for others.
Some of us expect the “socially active” people to carry the burden for the rest of us. We trivialize what can really be accomplished through the Interfaith Hospitality Network, providing housing for homeless families, or through More2, a movement to address economic empowerment and equity in the larger metro area. We acquiesce in the face of systemic evil that can infect governing structures, corporate policies, and even ecclesial practices.
Yet, we proclaim justice whenever we enact inclusive access to education, when we work for appropriate social “safety nets,” when we listen to the religiously “other,” and when we welcome the stranger, i.e., work for constructive immigration policies. Now is the acceptable time to do all of this, according to Jesus.
Molly T. Marshall
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