“What a Job Description!”
January 27, 2019 – Year C – Epiphany 3
Imagine, if you can, that you are the local boy from Nazareth, Jesus. You have come home. It is the sabbath (sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday) and you have gone to the synagogue as you do every sabbath. You stand up to read. It is the scroll from the prophet Isaiah. It turns out to be the message first proclaimed 6 centuries earlier recorded in chapter 61 of the words of Isaiah.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring good news,” you announce. Really! Do you hear what you have just said? The Spirit of God is upon you! God has anointed you! Anointed you to bring Good News! Oh Jesus! What have you gone and done?! And it is not just Good News, but Good News to the poor. Yes, that means all our homeless and under-employed are recipients of the Good News. God has sent Jesus to proclaim release to the captives! Not just those imprisoned in jail – but those who are imprisoned with mental health issues – those captive by political systems that oppress – and the list goes on. God has sent Jesus that those who cannot see might have recovery of sight. Surely the medical interventions for cataracts, glaucoma, macular-degeneration are today’s examples of God’s Spirit at work. Jesus decreed that the captives be released. Those who are held captive by political systems that oppress, partners who suffer abuse, and aboriginal brothers and sisters who suffered the horrors of the residential school system, all cry out for freedom. The year of jubilee is announced. Oh, such liberation! All of this, Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah’s words. He concluded the reading by saying: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” What an acknowledgement of Jesus ministry!
Jesus has returned home to Nazareth in the area of Galilee. It is his first time to address his family and friends in the synagogue. It is a little like when a new minister stands before the congregation for the first time. He or she is measured. Yes, she preaches well. No, I don’t like that awful coloured shirt he is wearing. Yes, I can hear him well. No, that prayer was too long. And the evaluation continues until one Sunday you realize that this minister is truly yours! Thus, was the case for Jesus. He reads well and the people are expecting a nice, pleasant recitation. The oration they got was not liked. Not one bit! He announced, “that’s a sign of a new age is starting now with me.”
The congregation knew him – this kid and his family – since way back when. However, he deserves to die, for what he said. This is not the decision from Jewish leaders, but rather from Jesus’ former neighbours and friends! That may seem like harsh judgment, but his pronouncement was nothing short of heresy.
Rejection always hurts, but when it’s from our family and friends, it is worse. Our congregation become like family, and when they reject us it hurts. This congregation knows that oh too well. You have gone through that experience, not so very long ago. The rejection that Jesus faced resulted in death. However, his message is still being proclaimed around the world, full of promise and hope. We understand it as a message of direction and ongoing challenge. It is a manifesto of sorts. But the cost to following it can be one’s life.
Are we willing to follow the One who is so radical that it calls us to feed the poor who hang out in our door ways and stair-wells. And so, we give food packages when they ask for one. Will we write letter on behalf of Amnesty International seeking release of prisoners of conscience? Will we support the Mission and Service fund so that those who are oppressed might go free? Will we knit prayer shawls for the lonely, the ill, the and the bereaved?
Puccini, one of the great composers of the last century, wrote a number of operas, including Madame Butterfly, Tosca, and La Boheme. When he was in his early 60’s, Puccini developed a terminal illness. Because he felt he had at least one more opera inside, he got to work, writing as quickly as his failing health allowed. He was working on the last scene of the opera he called Turandot, when he died in 1924.
Not long after his death, some of Puccini’s students pulled together his notes and, going by what they knew of their teacher’s intentions, finished Turandot. In 1926, they presented it in a great premiere performance. It was a very emotional night and the most dramatic moment came during the final scene. When they reached the final notes that had come from Puccini’s pen, the conductor stopped the orchestra and turned to address the audience. With tears in his eyes he said, “Thus far our master wrote. Now we must go on with his work.” Then he turned to the orchestra and cast and led them to a triumphant finish.
In our gospel, Jesus reads from the prophet Isaiah. When he is finished, he announces, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And yet, in many ways, Jesus’ mission remains incomplete. Like the students of Puccini, we can say, “Thus far our master wrote, Now, we must go on with this work.” That is why the disciples were left behind, and as modern disciples of Jesus, we join them in the work he assigned. May we give generously to the Mission and Service fund. Love extravagantly by sharing time with the lonely and hurting. Work for justice by caring for the environment. Live faithfully by praying, meditating, and honouring our God. May the spirit of God be upon us all. Amen.