Reading Isaiah 61
The Year of the LORD 's Favour
1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD's favour
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called mighty oaks,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendour.
Gospel Luke 4.16-24
Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your home town what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”
“I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his home town.”
Today – Bible Sunday. Theme is Free to Go. Bible is a liberating experience to those who read it. Gospel set for today relates an incident in early part of Jesus’ ministry and took place in Nazareth.
Nazareth was where Jesus grew up and his family lived. Joseph was a carpenter and, according to tradition, died when Jesus was relatively young, leaving him the main breadwinner for the family. He ran the carpentry business in what was a small community with a population of no more than 400.
The synagogue in Nazareth was familiar to Jesus and would have been the main gathering place of the community. Synagogue is derived from a Greek word that originally meant assembly or congregation, referring to gathered people, but over time it came to mean the building where they met.
Imagine simple building. Tiers of stone benches around walls faced onto central platform where readings and prayers conducted. Nothing unusual in any man who could read and comment on Scripture standing to read a passage, then sitting to say a few words about it. What was shocking was the choice of Isaiah 61 – Year of the Lord’s Favour – which begins The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me because he has anointed me... which Jesus unambiguously applies to himself. Today in your hearing this Scripture is fulfilled.
Those who heard knew Jesus from a boy. Small builder. At first, impressed. Local lad speaks well. Then enormity of his claims sinks in.
Heard about miracles he did in Capernaum. Ask him to repeat them in Nazareth. He cannot. They have no faith in him. Is this the reason? He cannot do wonders unless we have faith? Seems puzzled himself. No prophet is accepted in his home town – quotes occasions from OT when prophets were sent to Gentiles in preference to the Jews.
Men in synagogue furious. Drive him out of the town. Would have killed him. But Luke says Jesus walked through them and went on his way.
This event comes at start of Jesus’ ministry. Just after baptism and temptation. First detailed account of his mission. Like a manifesto. Sets the scene for what is to come.
I have always found it hard to understand swing from welcome, admiration, acceptance and praise – through condemnation – to driving out and attempted murder. All because Jesus read a few verses from prophet Isaiah. Illustrates in stark way power of scripture. Appropriate for Bible Sunday.
Christianity, Judaism and Islam all religions ‘of the Book.’ Scripture for Christians is revealed by God. In Anglican tradition, together with tradition and reason, our interpretation of scripture determines how we should act. Yet how much time do Christians spend studying the Bible, compared to Muslims?
Perhaps the Bible is too familiar, too readily available to us, too cheap, too easy to lay our hands on. There is a certain embarrassment we would all feel if we took out a Bible in the Underground or in a train and read it openly. Maybe we should imagine a time when it is banned, when people are killed for just possessing a copy, when lives are lost in an appalling manner for translating it into English.
Some churches, instead of observing Bible Sunday are marking it as No Bible Sunday. There’s even a web site nobiblesunday.org when services take place with no Bible, no Bible quotations and no teaching. No hymns for example. No readings. Imagine – what would we do?
[HAND OUT READINGS IN OTHER LANGUAGES]
The aim is to make people value Scripture more than they do. Taking something away usually has that effect. The plain fact is, though, that for hundreds of millions of people every Sunday is a No-Bible Sunday.
What is the Bible is not in your language? What if you can’t read? What if owning a Bible is illegal and the punishment is severe?
It’s only 480 years since first complete Bible published secretly in English. Wm. Tyndale was strangled to death whilst tied to the stake and his dead body burned for doing it. This is the legacy of Bible Sunday. Something we take for granted today was the very same book many lost their lives creating.
If we engage with it, we can once again unleash its power to change lives. We are free to go – with God’s love that is at work through the pages of scripture. What was so hard won, for which great sacrifices were made, we should value and reverence more than we do.
Tyndale's final words, spoken “at the stake with a fervent zeal, and a loud voice”, were reported as “Lord! Open the King of England's eyes.” That was in October 1536. 4 years later, 4 new English translations had been published, including King Henry VIII’s own Great Bible.
The Bible is so many things – too many to relate in a short sermon. Jesus’ choice of Isaiah focuses our attention on prophecy. The Spirit of the Lord, he says, is on him. He has been sent to preach the good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind (both physically and spiritually) and release to the oppressed.
Our freedom to engage with it has been hard won. More people have died horribly so we can read it than any other publication. So let the message of Bible Sunday sink in. Let us value Scripture more than we have in the past. Let it be, for us, the liberating experience it was intended to be.
Today, Jesus said, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. Amen