Summary: Jesus proclaims that Isaiah’s prophecy has been fulfilled. The inclusion of all people in to God’s family is foreshadowed.
When I was young, the kids in the neighborhood would occasionally play a game called, "King of the Mountain." We would use the giant piles of snow, which were made by plowing the streets and parking lots. The object of the game was to get to the top of the mountain before anyone else. Usually this was accomplished by pushing the other kids down, while climbing up the mountain and avoid being pushed down ourselves.
"King of the Mountain" is a microcosm of life especially in the United States. We spend our days climbing up our little mountains. In our ascent, there are times when we use and abuse others, and times when we push others down. We are convinced that this is the only way to play the game and to reach that elusive goal called "success."
Jesus enters our world and teaches us a different way to play the game.
Today's story takes place in Jesus' hometown, Nazareth. Recently Jesus had returned from the wilderness and his encounter with Satan.
“Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee” (Luke 4:14).
Jesus' message is different from John the Baptist's. You might recall, from last Sunday, that John called people to "Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sin." Though Luke doesn't record Jesus' theme, we know from the gospel of Mark that Jesus called the people to repentance because the kingdom of God had arrived.
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15).
Jesus understood himself to be not only the incarnation of God, but also the manifestation (epiphany if you will) of the kingdom of God. He underscores this good news in this teaching to his family, friends and neighbors in Nazareth. He says,
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).
Jesus invites people to follow him and learn to live in God's kingdom in the present. He then begins to describe what God's kingdom looks like.
The Good News of Jubilee
Luke has Jesus officially begin his ministry in Nazareth. Jesus is in his home town and is in the synagogue for the Sabbath. The people had heard what he had already done in other small towns. They were anxious to hear what Jesus had to say. Jesus quotes a passage from the prophet Isaiah.
“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.” (Luke 4:18-19).
These verses were first spoken to the Exiles as they waited to return to the Promised Land. The words describe the Year of Jubilee. This was a time when debts were forgiven and land returned to its original owner. (The concept would be similar to stopping a game of Monopoly in mid game and returning everything to the way it was in the beginning.) In the Year of Jubilee there would be equity, freedom, health, and an overflowing of God's blessings. Isaiah's words were overwhelmingly good news to the Exiles and also to the Nazarenes who heard Jesus speak them that Sabbath.
The Year of Jubilee, and also the kingdom of God, was not brought about by kingly decree or the physical persuasion of an army. No indeed! The Year of Jubilee was brought about by people celebrating God's provisions and generosity. The people's attitude of gratitude allowed them to live in equality, justice and freedom.
A Kingdom for Everyone
The people who heard Jesus were happy. They were going to be richly blessed. Jesus' next words angered them. He began to remind them how God's grace was not contained in the nation of Israel. In trying times God moved and touched the lives of a pagan woman and her son and a heathen military commander.
It is difficult to understand the intensity of the people's anger toward Jesus. In an effort to understand what was happening, allow me to give a modern analogy. Imagine the uproar if congress passed a bill granting citizenship to all of the twelve million undocumented immigrants. Or, the tumult if free healthcare was granted to all, but $100 would be added to everyone’s taxes. Think of the anger if a law was passed limiting a person’s net worth to $100 million. The excess would be taken away to end hunger and provide for the poor and needy.
We like it when we receive the blessings. We are not happy when others receive blessings especially if we think that they don't deserve it and they haven't earned it. This is the reality of God's kingdom, though. None of us are worthy of God's love and grace. None of us can earn God's love and grace. It is a free gift. Our relationships with others are challenged to be reflections of God grace and be free gifts.