The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Us, to Bring Good News
Jan 23, 2022
Third Sunday after Epiphany
Text: Luke 4:14-21
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
When Jesus looked out at the people gathered in his hometown synagogue, he told them exactly what kind of Messiah he would be. Whether or not they understood what he meant is next week’s focus, but for today it’s clear that … well, that Jesus is clear. Or perhaps I should say Spirit-led.
It’s interesting that the Gospel of Luke is filled with references to the Holy Spirit. This Gospel refers to the third person of the Trinity more than all the other Gospel writers combined. The name Holy Spirit appears 13 times in Luke, and 41 times in Acts, which is the second part of Luke’s gospel. Compare that to only 12 times in the other three Gospels combined. (1)
The Holy Spirit fills and speaks through Mary, Jesus’ mother; Elizabeth and Zechariah, parents of John the Baptist, who the Spirit also leads. And Jesus is also guided by the Spirit, who shows up at his baptism, leads him into the wilderness, and strengthens him as the devil tempts him. Then the Spirit fills him with power as he returns to his home territory and begins his public ministry; everyone praises his preaching.
That’s where today’s story begins. Jesus comes to Nazareth, where he was raised; the people there watched him grow up, know his family, and, in the synagogue on the Sabbath, he is invited to read and interpret scripture. So it is that the first words we hear from his public ministry are from the Prophet 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.”
Then, there was a pregnant pause as the scroll was rolled up and returned to the attendant. Jesus sat down, which was the position from which teachers spoke. He looked into the eyes of his neighbors, friends, people who knew of him as they fixed their eyes on him. Then, he proclaimed, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Can you imagine it?
Commentator Elisabeth Johnson describes what happened in this way: “Right here, at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus tells us clearly what his mission is about. He boldly claims to fulfill the words of Isaiah, who speaks of the Spirit anointing him, sending him, compelling him to bring good news to every one of God’s children who is bound up, pressed down, broken in spirit, impoverished and desperately hungry for Good News.” (2)
The people to whom Isaiah spoke were those who returned to Jerusalem after many decades in exile. They were descendants of Jews who had been taken into captivity years before. They had no real memory of the Temple or the city itself. When they arrived in the Holy City, what they found in no way resembled the soaring stories they had been told of beauty and majesty; it must have been a shock. They were poor people in a broken homeland.
But then, the Prophet Isaiah began to proclaim the word of the Lord, a message of comfort and promise, and their hope returned. So, when Jesus chose to read this passage, it was a reminder, hundreds of years later, to hope again, even as they lived under Roman oppression.
Jesus brings good news to the poor, and it is interesting that the word we translate “poor,” according to one commentator, “has to do with economic status as well as other factors that lowered one’s status in the first-century-world – factors such as gender, genealogy, education, occupation, sickness, disability and degree of religious purity. In other words, Jesus’ mission is directed to those relegated to the margins of society”. (3)
As his ministry unfolded, Jesus fulfilled this promise in his acts of healing, liberation, and welcome to all kinds of people considered outsiders. His followers have always been and still are, called to follow in his footsteps.
Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The day before, Sunday, I felt unsettled because focusing on the holiday just did not fit with the Gospel reading, and then I forgot to do so in the prayers. But, as it turns out, today’s Gospel reading more than fits.
Since most of us were stuck inside because of the snowstorm or were outside battling it, we did not have the opportunity to observe the National Holiday as “a day on, not a day off,” as was encouraged in an editorial in Monday’s newspaper. The writer went on to say that MLK Jr. Day is a day for volunteerism, bridge building, and the pursuit of solutions that move the nation closer to Dr. King’s vision of “the beloved community.” “We urge you,” the editorial said, “to work towards a community in which everyone is cared for, one without poverty, hunger and hate.” (4)
That call to action is nothing new. It can be traced back to Jesus.
Jesus has not been among us physically for thousands of years; for Martin Luther King Jr., it has been 50 years, yet in the areas of racial and economic divides, so much healing is needed.
Did you know that the U.S. population went from 90 percent white to 60 percent white between 1950 and 2018, but the vast majority of Americans live in racially segregated neighborhoods?
Did you know that the food insecurity rate, which refers to lack of regular access to nutritional food, is 13.8 percent in Summit County, nearly 75,000 individuals; 19 percent of them, about 22,000, are children?
And those are just two areas in need of good news. We strive here at FLC to prioritize reaching out to people on the margins and shrinking racial divides. We must keep sharpening and expanding that focus. (By the way … there will be opportunities to do so in a hands-on way in March as we support DLM at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and gather for the Interfaith Justice Series.)
Jesus’ message of who he is and for whom he came was clear that day in the Synagogue, and it continues to be clear today, as it is true of what it means to follow him. The Spirit of the Lord is upon us to bring good news. AMEN
(1) “Good News, Bad News” by JoAnne Taylor, January 23, 2022, www.pastorsings.com
(2) “Commentary on Luke 4:14-21” by Elisabeth Johnson, www.workingpreacher.org
(3) Same as #2
(4) “Martin Luther King Day is not time for rest, relaxation” by the Columbus Dispatch, Akron Beacon Journal, January 17, 2022, pg. 11A