And he [Jesus] began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” Luke 4:21 (ESV). Today we read the first sermon that Jesus gave in Nazareth, the place that witnessed his growth and knew His family. We might be surprised to see that Jesus is met with some mixed reviews. But the response did not dictate the message. The good news was bold and clear. Today as we continue in this season of Epiphany here at International Lutheran Church, we are reminded how the light of Christ brings with it both the stark reality of our condition, and also the glorious, good news of the freedom we have in Jesus.
This week many of you know, or are just learning now, that I had a small operation to repair a minor health condition. This was not my first hernia operation, so I wasn’t too worried, but it was my first time to experience the Korean medical system from the inside! What I learned is that Korea has outstanding care and excellent and highly trained nurses and doctors with a heart to serve. One thing different was the need to provide a “helper” or assistant to the patient. What a blessing that Chenhsi was able to join me before and after the operation. One of the things that I remember from our missionary training when I first came to Asia almost 30 years ago was the admonition to always take a camera with you and take pictures of everything you see in those first few months. These observations can really help you to connect with the people and culture you are entering as you observe and see how things are different from what you are used to seeing. This does not mean to cultivate an attitude of which is better or worse, but to notice the things that you didn’t expect. Seeing a nearly full-sized refrigerator in the hospital room for two patients is a case in point! The other lens of course to look through when we experience something different is to pay attention to one’s own reaction. Here I had a chance to even think about my first surgery and now see how well I responded and recuperated this time around. Obviously a little older I expected it might go a little slower and maybe because I have been there, I thought I might be more patient. Well not exactly! But this is how we learn. This is how we grow and change.
In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus speaks in the synagogue of His youth. The town where he was nursed and nurtured, they were anxious to hear their claim to fame now speak to them. Jesus’ ministry had already begun in the surrounding towns and villages. We might imagine the expectation that this would now bring to his “own” community. That there were two immediate reactions I guess should not surprise us when it seems that people today can hardly stand in solidarity about anything. The first reaction of course was what we might have expected. The crowds marvel at His teaching. They hear in this very brief sermon the good news for them. They hear and see the fulfillment of God’s Word right before their eyes. They clearly got the message of gracious words, a message of jubilee – liberty and freedom from the oppression of debt and a future no longer strapped with the past. One way the Bible talks about sin and its consequences in our lives is in the sense of debts, payments or accounts that can never be reconciled. For some, interest is what makes the world go round, but we also know the damage of usury and how it can push people down. So when Jesus speaks of “liberation” to the down trodden, it invokes yet another response. But this probably wasn’t what we expected.
For any who might have not noticed, a “home” court does not always mean an advantage. Jesus uses two very familiar Old Testament examples from the prophets… Elijah and Elisha to make His point. If there were any two great prophets recognized by all it was Elijah and Elisha. Their ministry in word and deed was definitive of what a prophet is. Yet, what may have escaped Jesus’ hearers of that day and maybe perhaps us today is that their message and miracles became for some a message of judgement, but for others the miracle of life. Here is where Luke’s Gospel shines with clarity in proclaiming who Jesus is and why He has come. He came for the least and the lost. He has come for the marginalized and outsider. Jesus has come to set us free from the debt of our past and not to use it as a tool to exploit and control. Luke says the listeners got the point and were filled with wrath in contrast to the Spirit that was upon Him. They saw how the light was shining on their own darkness and they could not bear it. As they readied to throw Jesus from the cliff, they prefigured just how far Jesus was willing to go to deliver us from our debts. Luke’s Gospel tells us of another hill, Calvary, from which Jesus would not walk away, but instead would walk directly to for you and me.
As we celebrate this season of Epiphany and the ever-increasing light and revelation that Jesus is the Son of God, we are brought into the brilliance of that Day where all our darkness is dispelled and all our debts are paid in full.