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Jesus at the Synagogue

January 28, 2019

Fresco, 14th c.: Vesoki Decani Monastery, Kosovo
Jesus at Synagogue in Nazareth

Scripture Luke 4:14-21

"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."

Luke 4:18 NRSV

We easily could assume that Jesus of Nazareth started his ministry to great acclaim, but the Gospels explain a much slower beginning. According to the Gospel of Luke, he was baptized, went into the wilderness for forty days, and then moved into Galilee, filled with God’s Spirit. He returns to Nazareth, his hometown, and attends synagogue on the Sabbath. Soon, we see the motivation for this return to “his people.” During the meeting, he reads the passage (above) from Isaiah. It is a bold proclamation that he is the Messiah, the Anointed One of Israel. At first, those present respond in wonder and amazement! But, these people, who know him well, do not believe what they have heard. And, they do not believe in Jesus!

By contrast, many who are reading this believe, or at least are curious about, Jesus. But, no matter our beliefs or faith, nearly all of us desire to live good lives, respecting others. Many of us attend worship and pray regularly. Despite these good intentions, how often do our actions, our manner of living, reflect that we have taken seriously the teachings of Jesus? Like those in the synagogue that day in Nazareth, we ignore the abundant grace that God has given us through Jesus Christ. We tell ourselves that we are doing the best we can and then rationalize our behavior that falls into those “gray” areas between good intentions and inaction. If we are not fully grounded in faith, it leaves us open to all manner of shortcomings: taking advantage of others, tweaking the system, or “working the odds” in our favor. All of this falls short of the revelation proclaimed by Jesus. It leaves us looking hollow, self-serving, and without purpose.

In these verses, Jesus made a fresh start on his ministry, reading an ancient text from Isaiah among familiar surroundings, and facing familiar faces, who soon opposed him. Few of us will be required to exhibit the courage Jesus showed that day. Unlike those in Nazareth, are you and I able to live into the proclamation of Christ? When we choose to do so, we bring the Good News to those we know- and to those do not know. When we engage in small acts of kindness that conquer hate and quiet fears, we proclaim the message of the Messiah:

We proclaim “the year of the Lord’s favor.

Stan Reid


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