Summary: Asserting the mission of a new church
The Main Thing
Scripture Reading: Luke 4:14-21
It was early on the morning of the sabbath.
Bearded men in long robes
passed behind and between rows of pillars
as they took their seats in the room,
which was lit by a clutter of low-hanging lamps.
In the center of the room was an angled desk
atop a low platform.
Backless benches were arranged on all sides,
and looking down on the scene
was a balcony filled with the wives and daughters of the men occupying the room below.
A row of dignified men sat
in front of a heavy curtain at the end of the room;
one of them rose from his seat and spoke briefly to several of the others in the room, one of whom was the carpenter, Yeshua ben Yusef--Jesus of Nazareth.
The room was full, with many men standing,
when Jesus walked
to the raised desk
in the middle of the synagogue,
the same place where as a boy of thirteen,
he had celebrated his bar mitzvah.
All eyes in the room
were riveted upon his lean form,
made more gaunt by the recent ordeal he had endured
during a forty-day fast in the wilderness of Judah.
An air of expectation
mingled with the smoke
from the oil lamps in the room
as he ascended the rostrum;
sensational rumors had been spreading
all over the countryside
about the carpenter’s son,
and he had already taught in other synagogues in the area.
This sabbath appearance in his hometown of Nazareth had been long awaited by many in the room.
The carpenter’s strong voice commenced the first part of the service by reciting a series of prayers and recitations . . .
And then Jesus waited, briefly, while the Chazzan, the man whose duty it was to do so, carried a heavy scroll to the podium.
Jesus, handling the bulky scroll
with a skill that betrayed practice,
deftly unrolled it
while the crowd in the synagogue waited.
After just a moment,
he found the passage he sought,
lifted his eyes to the congregation,
and spoke without another look at the scroll.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,” he said.
Immediately, puzzled looks were exchanged among the men in the rows of seats; this was not the haphtarah, the scheduled reading, for the day.
Up to that point Jesus had led the synagogue service in customary fashion,
but this was unconventional,
a jarring departure,
an unexpected development.
The son of the carpenter was reading from a passage of his own choosing.
“Because,” Jesus continued, the old words flowing from his mouth, ringing with new meaning, “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.”
In the quietness that followed his reading,
Jesus rolled the scroll together,
handed it back to the Chazzan,
and sat down in his seat,
as a rabbi of that day would do
when he was ready to begin teaching.
He gazed around the room,
meeting the stares of those who watched him.
“Today,” he said, “this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
That sermon in Nazareth, recorded in the fourth chapter of Luke’s Gospel, was Jesus’ inaugural sermon, the first official act of his public ministry. And I believe that what Jesus did that day has much to teach us today: