Today’s Gospel text tells us, that after Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by Satan, he returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit. He went to many synagogues and taught there. Wherever he went, people glorified him.
Perhaps news had spread of how well he spoke by the time he returned to the place where he had been brought up, his home town of Nazareth. As was his usual custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath and he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, he unrolls it and reads Isaiah 61:1. ‘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’. He rolls the scroll back up and hands it back to the assistant and sits down, and while all eyes were fixed on Him, He says: ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’.
Jesus is declaring that this scripture is about him. Jesus is the anointed one, anointed not by oil as in the Old Testament, but by the Holy Spirit at his baptism. Jesus begins, but begins what? The sermon? No, his sermon was short. He begins his appointed task of declaring salvation and freedom. He doesn’t just say that it is coming, but that it is actually here and has been fully completed.
Jesus begins his ministry of preaching good news to the poor. We poor ones, who have nothing to offer God, who don’t think that we have any talents to offer God, who struggle in our obedience, who lack spiritual discipline – we hear the good news that it is Christ who is obedient to death and who has accepted us as his own through baptism, despite how poor in Spirit, wealth or self-worth we are. It is us who have nothing to offer who hear his words as good news. For because we are in Christ, we are rich. Today we have salvation through Christ. We have more than we think because we are able to offer the very things he wants us to give him – prayer and praise. Ironically, quite often a response to those who have much to offer as they are reluctant to offer these because they are too busy selling themselves and their talents.
Jesus begins his ministry of proclaiming freedom for the prisoners. Who are the prisoners? We who are bound by the chains of the past, who are bound by feelings of guilt or shame for the things that we have done or not done in the past; we who wonder ‘did God really forgive me for that thing in the past because it was surely too big to forgive’. Receive the good news that we are forgiven and no longer bound by our past sins. We who are bound up trying to be a good person, chained to the thought of trying to be acceptable to God, receive the good news that we are free to be children of God. For all of us whose conscience is being held captive by the devil, we have been freed by Christ. For in Christ we are free indeed, free to be children of God, free to come to him and ask for forgiveness, free to be bound to Christ.
Jesus begins his ministry of giving back sight to the blind. Who are the blind? We who are living in the darkness of deception and temptation, we who are keeping our past sins in the dark where they can destroy our soul. We, who continue to live in the dark, are to receive sight and light. Jesus Christ is the true light who gives us a guiding light to live by. He opens our eyes to see the truth – the truth about our sinful state and the truth about his gracious words. He shines his light into our darkest past, not to destroy us, but to heal us through the precious words of forgiveness, those healing words that wash away our darkness so that we may live as people of the light.
Jesus begins his ministry of releasing those who are oppressed. Who are the oppressed? We who are burdened, shattered or weakened by life’s struggles with sin. We who have broken relationships because of the consequences of sin, who are broken in spirit, broken in body or soul – we are released. We are released from our sins because Christ offers us forgiveness. We are released from the binding power of Satan. We are released from our debts of the past, because now is the time of the Lord’s favour.
In the Biblical Book of Leviticus, a Jubilee year is mentioned to occur every fiftieth year, in which slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven and the mercies of God would be particularly manifest. In Judaism the Jubilee Year is currently not observed in modern times because it only applies when representatives of all twelve tribes have returned to Israel and a majority of the world’s Jews live in the Land.
In Christianity, the tradition dates to 1300, when Pope Boniface VIII convoked a holy year, following which ordinary jubilees have generally been celebrated every 25 or 50 years; with extraordinary jubilees in addition (depending on need). The last Holy Year was celebrated in 2000, and Pope Francis declared recently that an ‘Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy’ will be held in 2016.
But what does that mean: I’m not really sure-maybe it’s as the conspiracy people are suggesting that with nearly all countries being in debt to each other, and that then combined a Global Financial Crisis Mark II, that somehow they’ll wipe the slate clean through some sought of “One world controlling bank.”
I’m not really sure: or maybe it’s like the guy dying of a terminal illness in a remote town who cashed out his credit card to the max. and used the money to make himself a burial casket out of galvanised iron, filled it with ice and alcohol drinks and invited his mates around knowing that upon his death the bank would simply write the debt off-“”That’ll shown them.”
However a Jubilee year looks in earthly terms I’m not sure, but in Christ Christians could argue that every year is a year of Jubilee because of Jesus reinterpreted of Leviticus that shows now, today we are able to live in freedom, knowing that the price of all our debts have been fully paid in the death of Jesus. This is the time when we can rest from our heavy labours and be served by God.
But how does Jesus release us and heal us? How does he give us rest? Jesus releases our sins through the words of absolution. The words the pastor speaks that are not his own,
but are words that Jesus himself speaks to us. We receive forgiveness of sins at our baptism. We return to our baptism with a contrite heart to be sorry for our sins so that daily we may be a new and fully restored person who can live before God in righteousness and purity. We receive forgiveness of sins at the Lord’s Supper where Jesus gives us his holy body, his holy blood for us to eat and drink so that we too become holy.
Today his task is completed for you today for you have been freed because for Luke, ‘today’ is a word linked with news of salvation. We recently heard those words ‘today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you’ (Lk 2:11). Later in Luke’s gospel account, Jesus says to Zaccheus: ‘Come down. I must stay at your house today’ (19:5) and when he gets there he says ‘today salvation has come to this house’ (19:9). And when Jesus was on the cross, during the last hours of a criminal’s life, he says to him: ‘Today you will be with me in paradise’. But this is a special ‘today’ because it remains fulfilled even today, the 24th of January, 2016.
His task is fully completed for you, but yet it is not fully completed until he comes again because there is still need for his word, which he has given to his body – the church – to preach to the poor, the bound, the blind, the oppressed. We live in this in-between time where even though it is fully fulfilled, we still look forward to its fulfilment.
It is true that only Jesus could read this text, for it is only completed in Christ, but we too can say ‘the Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor’. We too have been baptised, been joined to Christ, been anointed as his priests to go out into the world and preach the gospel, the good news to the poor, the prisoners, the blind, the oppressed. He has empowered us to tell others that even in our ‘free’ country; we are still bound by our sinful nature and are prisoners of Satan. But even more importantly, we can now point to Christ and tell people that there is no freedom from our chains except through Christ. For even though forgiveness comes from God, it is through Jesus Christ and his precious gifts of absolution, baptism and the Lord’s Supper that we receive his forgiveness.
So now we can go out as true free people, freed from sin, death and the power of the devil and serve Him in that truth that all praise be to God through our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.