Saturday, January 23, 2016

Fulfilled in Your Hearing

“Today is holy to the LORD your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep”— for all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law. He said further: “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our LORD. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength!” Nehemiah 8:9B-10

Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.  1 Corinthians 12:27

He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”  Luke 4:16C-21

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”  (Teresa of Ávila)

All this prophesying but not a word about the future.  Each reading today is in the present tense. 

Nehemiah is the central figure of the Book of Nehemiah, which describes his work in rebuilding Jerusalem during the Second Temple period. He was governor of Persian Judea under Artaxerxes I of Persia.  That places his life in the five hundred years before Christ was born. Yet he is not preaching about a heaven in some far off distant time and space.  He is preaching in the present moment to his congregation.  “Today is holy to the LORD your God.”  Sharing with the poor is central to celebrating the strength that they get from the Lord.

Jesus, too, was not taking a futuristic approach to the Kingdom.  Although he reached back to the prophet Isaiah, seven centuries earlier.  Yet, in conclusion, Jesus preaches fulfillment in the here and now when people hear the words now. “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” 

However, the people did not accept the words Jesus preached.  In fact, this very preaching in his hometown directly led to his rejection.  This is the last we see of Jesus in Nazareth.  Yet the manifesto he delivered perfectly outlined his mission and public ministry.  However, that ministry would be marked by a relationship with the poor to whom he preached Good News. 

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.  Tidings is an old-fashioned word for good news. If someone says "I bring you good tidings!" it means they have information to share that you'll probably like. Glad tidings is “good news to the poor.”  The relationship Jesus had with the rich and powerful was, for the most part, bad news.  Just ask Divas, the rich man who ignored Lazarus at the gate and was left begging for water for eternity.

This first sermon in the temple gives people the assurance that they would be healed, that their sins would be forgiven, that their debts would be cancelled in a Jubilee Year.  Jesus offers a new beginning, a new life, to those who would listen and act upon his word. Yet most preferred to act upon their own words, not the words of the Lord.

The people in the temple who heard this Nazareth Manifesto certainly acted – just not upon it.  They acted against it.  They rejected it outright and attempted to through Jesus off a cliff.  They tried to fulfill the Buddhist maxim, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” They cannot because the spirit of the Lord is upon Jesus.  It is only when Jesus commands his spirit to return to the Father that his life ends – of his own choice.  As long as the spirit of the Lord is upon him, no one can kill him.

Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”; and when he had said this he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46)

What leads to the rejection?  A comparison of Luke 4 to Isaiah 61 gives us a hint.  In Isaiah 61 2B, we can clearly see that Jesus left out a line.  He skipped the part about revenge: “a day of vindication by our God.”  The people in the temple were waiting for a powerful King who would rise up and expel the belligerent Romans from their land.  But that is not the new Jesus delivered.  He delivered everything else they expected from Isaiah – except Jesus drew the line at vindication.  With that, he changed everything.

If we are part of Christ’s body, perhaps the two most important parts are…our ears.  Because unless and until we actually hear the word here, we cannot be Christian.  That is not to minimize our hearts and minds, nor our arms and legs.  We can use all of those for the wrong reason.  We can all answer the “What am I to do?” question differently.  However, Jesus gets pretty specific. 

The Spirit of the Lord is upon YOU because the Lord has anointed YOU to bring the good news to the poor. The Lord sends YOU to free those captives of sin and to open the eyes of people who are blind to the plight of the poor around them.  The Lord commands you to help those who are addicted to any sin and open their eyes to a life free from what controls and oppresses them, reach out to the downtrodden, the oppressed and afflicted, the forgotten and the neglected and to proclaim a Jubilee year of mercy and forgiveness acceptable to the Lord.

While our ears are the most important part for the first step on the journey, our hands and hearts and minds quickly overtake the ears – once the ears do their job. Because the rest of your body has to take over.  You are all that is left to bring that good news to the world.

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