Readings for the day (3rd Sunday after Epiphany – Sunday, January 17, 2016):
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Prior to our Gospel reading today, Jesus has just been baptized in the river Jordan and to begin his ministry he goes to no other place than the place where he is from, the place where he grew up – Nazareth. And while Jesus is there, like any good Jew, on the Sabbath he goes to worship in the synagogue. And as a traveling teacher, Jesus’ visit to any town would be focused on his reading and explanation of scripture in the synagogue on the Sabbath. And so his visit to Nazareth is no different – when it is the Sabbath day, Jesus enters the synagogue. And when he enters, Jesus is handed the scroll with the words from the prophet Isaiah on them. Jesus was handed the scroll and it was up to him to decide what portions of Isaiah he wanted to read to the congregation and interpret. He chose to focus on a couple of different locations where Isaiah points to who Jesus is and what his purpose was for even coming into the world. As Isaiah states, Jesus’ mission is to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, give sight to the blind, free the oppressed, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Jesus’ mission was to bring the good news, God’s good news to the poor. But today’s understanding of “the poor” is people who don’t have a lot of money, who maybe don’t always have enough food, those who don’t have adequate housing. And as a church we strive to continue carrying on Jesus’ mission to “the poor” by donating food to the food shelfs, making quilts for those who are in need of some warmth, donating money to help those in need. All of which are significant missions of the church that we do, and all of these practices are extremely important, but I’m challenged by the phrase “to bring good news to the poor.” Is bringing the good news of God only for those who are in a financial hardship? Is the good news only for those who are down on their luck? Certainly those in financial hardships need some good news, I don’t think “the poor” is only referring to a lack of money, food or shelter. What if “the poor” that Jesus is referring to is not a homeless person, but a person without a church home? What if “the poor” is not a malnourished person, but a person starving for the Word of God, the body and blood of Christ? What if “the poor” is not a person without money, but a person without an awareness or relationship with God? Jesus came to bring good news to these people – to give them spiritual shelter in the church, to nourish them through God’s Word, and encourage growth in a relationship with God.
Jesus proclaims that he was sent to release the captives. Certainly “the poor” that Jesus refers to are captives, but we too are captives – captives to sin that is. We say in our confession, “We confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves.” Sin has a firm grip on us and no matter how much or how little we try, those chains of sin don’t go away. They might loosen a little at times to give us some hope, but we are bound to our sin, unable to free ourselves.
This is why Jesus not only came to proclaim or speak a word of release to the captives, but to restore our sight so that we might see God clearly at work in our lives and to free us from the bondage of sin and evil. That’s what Jesus did for you on the cross. He willingly became a captive to my sin and your sin in order to loosen those chains of bondage to once and for all free us from that sin that clung so closely.
And Jesus did not just do this for you, he also did it for “the poor”. He did this for the homeless person living life without a church to call home. He did this for the malnourished person who finds themselves starving for something to fill that void in their life but they don’t know what that void is. He did this for the person who is unaware of God’s presence, his love, his mercy, his grace. Jesus came to proclaim the good news that God’s only Son died on the cross and rose again all so that those who are captive to their sin, may be freed to live their life to God.
When Jesus ascended into heaven, he left the mission that he started with his disciples, THE CHURCH! This is Christ’s mission. Therefore this is our mission as well – to proclaim the Good News of God to “the poor.” Those who are spiritually homeless. Those who are spiritually hungry. Those who are spiritually unaware. They all are in need of the Good News and they all exist in our community. The spiritually homeless, the spiritually hungry, the spiritually unaware. Christ is calling his church to continue his mission in proclaiming this good news that through Jesus the captives of sin are freed and the spiritually blind are given sight.
And Jesus did all of this to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Jesus could very well be referring to the Jubilee Year that is talked about in the Old Testament. The Jubilee Year occurred every fifty years in Israel. During this year, the land would be given a year of rest (so no crops would be planted), all of the debts that you owed or that was owed to you was to be forgiven, and all of the slaves were to be freed. That certainly was the year of the Lord’s favor, for Jesus had come into the world to forgive all of your sins or your debts and to free you from the slavery in which you were bound to Satan because of your sin.
Now just as all of the eyes in the synagogue were fixed on Jesus after he read those words from Isaiah, we not only look at Jesus with the eyes of our bodies, but the eyes of our souls. Fix your eyes on Christ and Christ alone. For it is in Christ and only in Christ that you are freed and forgiven. Amen.
© 2016 Anthony Christoffels. Used with permission.