I found out that the church I'm preaching at on Sunday is reading the Third Sunday after the Epiphany texts. Here are my preliminary thoughts about the gospel text. As you can see, I'm pondering what it means (and how it is true today) that "the finite is capable of bearing the infinite."
- The gifts of God present in the common life of small town neighbors. When
Jesus stands up and reads, then sits down and preaches, he is showing the
people one of their own, anointed for God's work. There is a regular, everydayness
to this. It was his custom to go to the synagogue; it was perhaps even his
custom to read and speak about the text. He is "one
of us." The
finite is capable of bearing the infinite. But how do you know you're looking
at the real deal? The people of Nazareth couldn't be sure, and were finally
scandalized by the idea of such a familiar one making a claim like the
one in Isaiah for himself. What are we missing because it is too familiar?
- What "messiah" means. What will God's anointed one do? How
do you know you're looking at the real deal? When John the Baptist sends
the question to Jesus in Luke 7, Jesus replies to the messengers, "Go
and tell John what you see and hear: the blind receive their sight, the
lame walk, the lepers are
cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought
to them." From the start here in Nazareth, this is the substance
of what Jesus says his ministry is about: good news to the poor, recovery
of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed, an announcement of the
acceptable year of the Lord. Where do we see this taking place today? Are
we a part of it?
- Expectations. Already word has spread. The people in Nazareth are eager to receive something from their weekly religious pilgrimage, just as everyone is who listens to a preacher today. All eyes are fixed, expectantly, on Jesus. What will they see in him? What will they hear in his message? Will he tell them that the Isaiah text (a) pleasant nostalgia about the past work of God to bring the exiles home, or (b) pie in the sky, a far-out promise to be fulfilled by God in heaven? No. Jesus rejects both of these readings and offers an alternative: Today. Today, with all its ambiguity, all its expectations, disappointments and compromises. Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. Again, the finite is capable of bearing the infinite.
What do you think? Comment here on how you see this scripture fulfilled today where you live. Can we bear witness to present-day work of the Holy Spirit to make Jesus known as the one who announces freedom, good news and the acceptable year of the Lord? What sorts of things would we point to if we needed to make an argument that Jesus' word about what is happening "today" is just as true on Sunday morning as it was on that Sabbath day in Nazareth when he spoke?
I have one idea so far. I spent a few days last week at Concordia College. Concordia's purpose statement is this: "to influence the affairs of the world by sending into society thoughtful and informed men and women dedicated to the Christian life." I'm sure that Concordia has all the usual challenges that institutions face trying to live up to their own mission statements. Even so, something very good is going on there. Hundreds of kids came to the Wednesday night Communion service. The dozen or so kids who attended a Bible study the night before struck me as both "thoughtful and informed" already, as well as intellectually curious and pious at the same time. Wherever they end up in society, they will be there as people who recognize the lordship of one who was anointed to turn the values of imperial society upside down (good news to the poor, freedom for those oppressed, jubilee ethics and economics, and more). It seemed to me that the Holy Spirit was well on its way to fulfilling scripture again, there in the lives of 18-22 year-olds, and, by allowing me to witness it, in my life too.