Gospel Reading for Third Sunday after Epiphany (Year C)
Full disclosure: The winter storm, while not as snowpocalyptic as it has been in other parts of the country, has kept me holed up in our house since Thursday. Then last night, I started feeling ill. Basically I am not on my A game. Maybe my C-/D+ game.
Which is a shame because the gospel passage this week is a great one. Jesus' sermon at the synagogue in his hometown is critical to the Gospel of Luke. It is considered the starting point of his ministry and the passage Jesus reads from Isaiah serves as a thesis statement for his mission.
The passage is interesting also because it starts out with this triumphant "hometown boy makes good" kind of scene before abruptly swerving into the crowd trying to stone him to death. The lectionary strangely hacks this passage in half. Part 1 is the gospel reading for this week and the crowd turning on Jesus is the gospel reading the next.
Jesus comes home and gets up to read in the synagogue. If you have ever been to a worship service in which someone who grew up there returns to preach, then you can imagine the scene. There's lots of goodwill toward the hometown kid. Everyone is beaming with pride. Honestly, the returnee is probably golden as long as he or she doesn't cuss and is able to form coherent sentences. That's the beautiful thing about supportive communities.
Naturally, Jesus does more than just skate by on goodwill. He knocks it out of the park. The text that he reads (Luke gives us a passage that is from Isaiah but in an edited form) is the kind of stirring "God is among us" passage you want to hear:
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.
He sits back down. Everyone is staring at him and then Jesus says, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Little known fact, this is the first recorded instance of someone dropping the mic.
But that is what Jesus' ministry was all about and, initially, people loved it. Likely because they saw themselves fully as the people on the receiving end of God's favor. I was listening to The Liturgists podcast the other day (which you should check out) and co-host Science Mike said that we all like to think that we are good people. When we hear of narratives of oppression, people being freed, etc. it is our natural inclination to believe that we are the good guys.
The people of Nazareth saw them as captives to be release and the oppressed to be freed. Why wouldn't they? They were in a poor, backwater region. Rome has their country under an iron sandal. Surely Jesus was talking about them. We like to believe that we and the ones like us are the ones who are the center of God's redemptive plan.
We eat those stories up. We want to hear about how we are going to be victorious. We love those messages whether it be about our churches, religious camps, political parties, or our sports teams. We want to hear about how God is on our side; that we are the ones who are in the Lord's favor. Our tribe is God's favorite.
Yet the mission that Jesus was proclaiming looked a good bit broader. And that complicated things for his hometown crowd. It complicates things for us as well, but we'll get to that next week.