Thursday, February 21, 2013

Living with Luke (12): 4:14-30






            Luke the Evangelist
 is traditionally symbolized by a winged ox or bull –
             a figure of sacrifice, service and strength.                                                                                                        The ox signifies that Christians should be prepared to sacrifice themselves in following Christ.


LIVING WITH LUKE (12)
Luke 4:14-30:  Jesus’ Sermon in Nazareth

14 Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news about him spread throughout the whole countryside. 15 He taught in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
16 Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been raised. On the Sabbath he went to the synagogue as he normally did and stood up to read. 17 The synagogue assistant gave him the scroll from the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
    to proclaim release to the prisoners
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
    to liberate the oppressed,
19     and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
20 He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the synagogue assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed on him. 21 He began to explain to them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.”
22 Everyone was raving about Jesus, so impressed were they by the gracious words flowing from his lips. They said, “This is Joseph’s son, isn’t it?”
23 Then Jesus said to them, “Undoubtedly, you will quote this saying to me: ‘Doctor, heal yourself. Do here in your hometown what we’ve heard you did in Capernaum.’” 24 He said, “I assure you that no prophet is welcome in the prophet’s hometown. 25  And I can assure you that there were many widows in Israel during Elijah’s time, when it didn’t rain for three and a half years and there was a great food shortage in the land. 26  Yet Elijah was sent to none of them but only to a widow in the city of Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27  There were also many persons with skin diseases in Israel during the time of the prophet Elisha, but none of them were cleansed. Instead, Naaman the Syrian was cleansed.”
28 When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was filled with anger. 29 They rose up and ran him out of town. They led him to the crest of the hill on which their town had been built so that they could throw him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the crowd and went on his way.

“Let’s have a Jubilee!”  That’s Jesus’ message as he preaches in his hometown synagogue.  Anointed with Spirit in his baptism, led by that Spirit to his triumph over the devil in the wilderness, returning to Galilee in the power of that same Spirit, he reads from Isaiah 61 a passage that begins, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.”  And he will soon conclude his sermon with the claim “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.”

Okay, Luke, we get the point!  This Jesus-thing is a Spirit-thing!  And this Jesus-thing is a Jubilee thing.  He signals this by alluding to the Greek version of the Old Testament with the phrase, “the year of the Lord’s favor” (v.19).  It’s from Isaiah 58:7 and he splices it into this passage from Isaiah 61.  Isaiah 58:7, in turn, alludes to Leviticus 25:10, the great biblical Jubilee text.

Jubilee is the great divine dream passage.  It tells us what kind of world God wants, is working toward, and will finally have.  Couched in language reflecting the realities of life in an agrarian society, the themes lying closest to God’s heart find voice.  Jubilee, every fiftieth year, capping a Sabbath of Sabbaths, requires three things:  erasure of all debt, freedom for all slaves, and return of all land to the original family to whom Joshua allotted it. 

Think about that!  Freedom – freedom to live as a responsible, productive member of one’s community free of the encumbrances that had smothered all hope of such a thing.  No more debt, no more servitude, and land, the basic form of capital in an agrarian society.  Whatever the reason for the fall into debt, servitude or loss of land – nothing about the deserving poor here – once every generation Israel is under covenant obligation to redistribute its wealth and power in interests of the freedom and well-being of all its members.

This is the kind of world and society God is working towards.  His people, Israel, as his pilot project to show the world what living with God is all about, are to embody and reflect this expansive freedom in its life together and its dealings with its neighbors and world.  As God’s people today, filled and energized by the same Spirit that filled and energized Jesus, we are to be about this same project within the realities of our own time and place.  Our churches ought to be places where the freedom and well-being of all in every area of their lives is experienced.  And in whatever ways it can, the church should be about the same work in the world.

I used the phrase “covenant obligation” above.  That’s because most of us most of the time will not do this voluntarily.  Ancient Israel never did.  There’s no evidence that Jubilee was ever practiced as mandated by Leviticus 25.  The Israel of Jesus’ time was not ready to do so either.  His own community became a mortal threat to him when he made it clear that God’s Jubilee meant the gracious inclusion rather than the vengeful judgment of the outsiders, the Gentiles (vv.24-27).  And God knows we will not normally redistribute wealth and power either, especially those who have it and would suffer some material loss from doing so.

Yet we cannot be God’s people without internalizing and incarnating this freedom and well-being throughout our churches.  God’s law has been written on our hearts with the coming of the Spirit (Heb.10:16-17) to aid in this transformation.  Yet, let’s be candid, it will be a struggle for most us.  We need the law of Jubilee, which despite its nonobservance in Israel still stands as God’s dream for his world.  He’s never given up on it.  Instead he has given us his Spirit, as just noted, to implant God’s law in us that we may more and more be shaped by its vision, God’s vision, than our own desires and inclinations.  It’s that Spirit that rested on Jesus as God’s anointing

“to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he has poured that Spirit out on us.  So, I say again, let’s have a Jubilee!

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