Fr. John Allison
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
1 Corinthians 12:12-31
January 23, 2022
Christ Church, Hudson
In our Gospel reading today, as is the case with all of our Gospel readings during this season after the Epiphany, we see yet another scene in which Jesus’ identity as the long awaited Messiah is manifest to the world. In this particular case, Jesus has returned to Nazareth, his hometown, and is attending the synagogue on the Sabbath day. This is a familiar story and it’s also included in Matthew and Mark as well, but Luke’s version is slightly different in where it comes in the sequence of Jesus’ life. For Luke, as we read today, Jesus has just returned from being led by the spirit into the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil. He was baptized; and then he was led into the wilderness, and now he is back among the people, his people, and he is ready to begin his ministry.
He’s in his hometown, and the synagogue he enters is the synagogue he has attended with his family since he was a young child. He knows the people, some of them are maybe even aunts and uncles and cousins. I imagine it being something like it is here when a familiar but now grown child who was raised at Christ Church returns after being away for some time. Jesus has gained some notoriety in his preaching and teaching throughout the countryside and people are beginning to take notice.
I should say, that ordinary worship in the synagogue is much like what we do here. There is an opening prayer; in this case it would have been a recitation of the Shema: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” And then there are some additional prayers while all face toward Jerusalem and then the Amen response from the congregation. That’s followed by two readings, one from the Torah and one from the prophets and then a sermon. And finally a blessing as the people are dismissed. There was seldom a rabbi present in these remote synagogues and any male could volunteer or be asked to do the readings and give the sermon. On this particular day, that volunteer happens to be Jesus and the prophet he reads from is 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.”
Now, of course, this scripture would have been quite familiar to the congregation and it would have been understood as what we might think of as the job description for the messiah, the savior of an oppressed people. As Jesus finishes reading and sits down everyone is watching him closely. You see it was customary that a teacher would sit before delivering a sermon as the congregation stood so they are waiting to hear his interpretation. But he doesn’t interpret the scripture.
Jesus simply says, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus points to himself as the long-awaited messiah and we get a kind of agenda for how his ministry will develop. This passage from Isaiah that he has read lays out what he will do. Some of you may know how the story develops beyond today’s reading and you’ll hear the continuation next week so I’m jumping ahead just a bit but when the people hear this they respond by trying to throw him off a cliff. They can’t hear what he is saying. They can’t see who he is. We could speculate about why that might be, but the point is that Jesus reveals who he is and what he has come to do quite clearly: he will bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and freedom to the oppressed. The question, then, is what do we do? How do we respond? We know how the folks of Nazareth respond; they can’t see Jesus for who he is, but what about us?
“Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus is here, today! He has come to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and freedom for the oppressed. Can we see him as he is revealed in our broken world? Do we see him with us in our suffering? Sometimes it’s not so easy. How does Christ manifest in your life? Where does He call you to go? Do you see him? Do you hear him? How does He call you to participate in his mission?
These are big questions that are always with us as disciples. They seem especially present when we note our unity as the Body of Christ. Last week they were questions that seemed especially pertinent in the business of our annual meeting but they are questions that should be ever before us as a church and as practicing people of faith. I see Jesus’ call to us in the work we have done and the work we will continue in his name.
What excites me about that is that it is work that we do not as individuals out for individual gain but we do it as one body. Paul says it best today in his letter to the Corinthians: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit all were baptized into one body—Jews, Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
He goes on to use the analogy of the human body and how all parts are essential to show the value every one of us has as the gathered Body of Christ. The Corinthians had experienced much conflict among themselves with some setting themselves above others but Paul shows them another way. That same analogy of the body had been used by other ancient writers to reinforce the hierarchy, naming some parts as inferior, but Paul turns that model upside down as he recognizes that every one of us is called to use the various gifts God gives us to do His work.
“You are the Body of Christ, and individually members of it . . . If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” We recognize that every week when we come together in prayer and thanksgiving—quiet specifically in just a few minutes when we offer the prayers of the people; we acknowledge our needs and our hopes and we give thanks for the many gifts and talents we have been given and we see that it is not just “I” an individual, but Christ working in us.
Epiphany is about manifestation, about who Jesus is revealed to be. In just a bit, when you come forward to the altar we have a material manifestation, in the bread and wine, of that love that is at the core of who Jesus is. It’s the love that makes us all that we are possible. It’s the love that animates us and gives us true life. Today, the scripture HAS been fulfilled. The spirit of the Lord is upon us and through us may God’s work be done. Amen.