Read Luke 4:14-21
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me…to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God.” Isaiah 61:1a, 2a).
Recently, a fellow colleague and friend of mine got into a conversation about the scripture passage I was preaching on at the church that I serve. The passage is Luke 4:14-21 and is on Jesus’ first recorded visit to the synagogue in Nazareth following his baptism and wilderness experience. In that passage, Jesus is handed the scroll of Isaiah and he opens it up to the following passage: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, for He has anointed Me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.” Inspired by the conversation, I have decided to devote a series of devotions on this particular passage, which has become known as “The Christian Manifesto”.
The last three devotions were focused on introducing Jesus’ Christian Manifesto to us and the lead up to Jesus’ confrontation at the Synagogue in Nazareth. Now it is time that we look at the manifesto itself. Prior to talking about the specific social/spiritual concerns that Jesus addresses in the manifesto itself, it would do us good to introduce the very Scripture that Jesus is both quoting as well as reframing. In the Gospel, it says that Jesus is handed a scroll from the prophet Isaiah, also known as the Book of Isaiah as found in the Hebrew Scriptures within our Christian Bible.
Jesus opens up to what we now know as Isaiah 61 and reads the section we now number as the first and second verses. In it, the prophet writes following: “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon Me, for the LORD has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. He has sent Me to tell those who mourn that the time of the LORD’s favor has come, and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.” What’s important to note is that this text is not some isolated text written on a napkin; rather, it is surrounded by other passages written by the same person in order to convey a message that Jesus most definitely was aware of and intentional about.
Isaiah 61:1-2 is preceded by, for instance, 59:19-21 in which it is written: “In the west, people will respect the name of the LORD; in the east, they will glorify Him. For He will come like a raging flood tide driven by the breath of the LORD. ‘The Redeemer will come to Jerusalem to buy back those in Israel who have turned from their sins,’ says the LORD. ‘And this is My covenant with them,’ says the LORD. ‘My Spirit will not leave them, and neither will these words I have given you. They will be on your lips and on the lips of your children and your children’s children forever. I, the LORD, have spoken!'”
In other words, Isaiah 61:1-2, which is the text hat Jesus reads, is an announcement that is both condemning and liberative all at the same time. In it, the Spirit of the Lord through the prophet procalims that God is coming to establish divine justice on Earth. For those who are suffering, oppressed, captive, imprisoned, poor, and blind, this is indeed GOOD NEWS. Yet, for those of whom God’s justice is not in their own personal interest, these words come with fear and trembling for, as it is suggested in Isaiah 61:2b, God’s favor for the oppressed also ushers in God’s anger against the enemies of the oppressed (aka the oppressors).
While Jesus’ synagogue crowd, and no doubt ourselves, get excited at Jesus’ reading of Isaiah 61:1-2, it begs the question: “How excited should we be?” Are we the oppressed, or are we the oppressors? Honestly, it can be legitimately argued that we are on both sides depending on the day and the circumstances. What goes without saying, the fact that Jesus chose his reading wisely and is, certainly, calling his listeners into an introspective and reflective moment. It is a moment that should give us pause and bring us to our knees both in repentance and in joy at the coming of our Lord, our Redeemer, and our Savior. It should inspire within us, the need and the desire to be a changed, transformed and, ultimately, redeemed people.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Ears to hear and eyes to see—both are gifts from the LORD.” (Proverbs 20:12 NLT)
Lord, create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me. Amen.