Third Sunday after the Epiphany – January 27, 2019 – Luke 4:14-21 – Epiphany, Sherwood
Today we encounter Luke’s description of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. After he is born, baptized, and tempted in the desert, Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, travels through Galilee.
Reports of his presence begin to spread throughout the region, and while he is in his hometown of Nazareth on the sabbath day, he goes to the synagogue.
There he participates in the days “lectionary” reading, taking up the scroll of Isaiah and reading the appointed lesson. This happens to be a very important lesson. I know you just heard it, but I don’t think we can ever get too much of the Bible, so I’m going to read it once more.
“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.”
The phrase “the year of the Lord’s favor” refers to the Year of Jubilee, an Ancient Israelite practice occurring every fifty years. According to the book of Leviticus, every fiftieth year all debts would be forgiven and financial slates wiped clean. Property would revert to its original owner and slaves would regain their liberty.
Leviticus 25 says, “You shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family.”
In addition to financial freedom, the Jubilee Year was observed as a “sabbatical” year. There was to be no working of the land. Instead, the Israelites were to live off of the overabundance of crops that God provided during the previous year.
“You shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces.”
The Jubilee Year was a year of rest, both for the people and for the land. It was a time for the Israelites to give thanks to God. It was a time to remember that they were first and foremost members of God’s kingdom and brothers and sisters to one another.
It sounds like an admirable tradition, but it also sounds like an impractical tradition. You might be wondering, “Did they really do that?” If you are, you’re not alone.
God’s law might have laid out a plan for Jubilee, but as we well know, the Israelites were not always the best at following God’s instructions. They did, from time to time, turn away from him, cast idols, and fight amongst themselves.
Why should we expect the Jubilee Year to be any different? Could they really have forgiven all the money owed them or ceded their property to its heredity owner? Well, perhaps not, but that’s really not the point.
How successful the Israelites were in their efforts to keep the Jubilee Year is immaterial. What’s more important is that God’s plan for the year of jubilee existed in the first place. God’s vision of Jubilee illustrates his desire for his people to live virtuous lives, regardless of how successful they were at following through.
The same is true today. God desires healthy, productive, sinless lives for each of us, but that doesn’t mean that we are always going to meet the mark. God’s puts forth the goal, but we fall short. That’s a given. We fail. That’s the way life goes. Even so, God loves us, and God forgives us.
God does not bestow his grace on you based on how well you follow the rules. God’s gives grace freely. I promise, there’s not a thing you can do about it! The fact that God gives his chosen people instructions for holy living proves that God’s grace is abundant. God has always been on our side, and God will aways be on our side.
Proof of God’s support for us lies in the final sentences of today’s Gospel, “And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’”
Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. That day, though most in attendance would not believe it, the scripture was fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
Jesus, God incarnate, is the physical manifestation of God’s plan for all people. God came in the person of Jesus to give us the knowledge and love of God in a more intimate way that we had ever experienced it before. Jesus came to tell us that God is on our side and that God will always be on our side, so much so that he took on our frail human nature.
Jesus still comes to call us back into community with one anther and to proclaim the “year of the Lord’s favor.” We are divided by love of money, power, and status, but Jesus tells us that what unites us is stronger than what divides us. We are children of God. Our bond in Jesus Christ is worth more than what the materials of the present age could ever offer us.
Our duty is to live into our identity as children of God, following Jesus’ example. Our duty is to share God’s love with one another and to live like the siblings in Christ that we are. Our duty is to live peaceably with one another, even when we disagree. Our duty is to forgive one another. Our duty is to respect one another because each of us is made in God’s image.
God wants all good things for you. He’s here today to offer them to you in the breaking of the bread and the proclamation of his Word. A Word that, even as we speak, is fulfilled in your hearing.