As I read this well known passage, I was struck by the opening sentence,
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country.Luke 4:14
Not so much that Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit, as post-Pentecost Christians we have come to take that for granted, but that a report spread. Everyone was talking about Jesus, everyone. Jesus would have been front page headlines, Youtube sensation, gossiped on Facebook, Instagram and every other social media platform. People would have been chatting about him at the pub, newsagent, hairdresser, he would have been the focus of all the memes. But now, it seems as if nobody really cares. Nothing is new or surprising. Yes there was a surge in online faith offerings during the pandemic, but it doesn’t seem to be quite the same as the reports that were spreading about Jesus back then.
Perhaps it has something to do with the passage Jesus read in the synagogue? He didn’t read out the rules and regulations of Leviticus, all the things that make us unclean and unworthy, all our misdemeanours and the appropriate punishments for them. He read a prophecy of hope, of love, and acceptance.
The passage Jesus chose to read (or perhaps it was chosen for him) addresses those in poverty, those who have nothing and have been valued as worthless; the passage addresses prisoners, those found to be wanting, convicted of having broken the laws of society, convicted of not belonging; Jesus addresses the blind, those physically impaired and cast aside, and perhaps metaphorically too, those who can’t see what is happening around them in this land of Roman occupation and Religious dishonesty; Jesus addresses the oppressed and claims that this is their time, God’s time for them.
Perhaps the reason why people are no longer talking about Jesus in this way is because we are not spreading the good news any more. Perhaps, as a church we come across more like a legal reading from Leviticus than a joyful song from Isaiah. There have been conflicting headlines over the past year or so when it comes to The Church: yes, churches and Christians have been wonderful at providing help and support and online prayer, but The Church has been publicly confronted with its failings in safeguarding and torn apart over gender.
As I read this passage this morning, I am challenged to give people reason to gossip about Jesus once again, not the church or the vicar, but Jesus; and I am challenged to begin here, with my neighbours struggling financially, for those who find themselves on the wrong side of the law, for those who have been cast aside due to physical impairments, those who feel overwhelmed by it all. Today I am challenged to find new ways to announce the year of the Lord’s favour.
‘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 favour.’Luke 4:18-19