Unify, don't divide!

23 January 2022

This morning’s reading – Luke 4:16-18 – gives a very clear indication of how Jesus would see his mission. I’d never noticed that Luke tells the story of Jesus speaking in his home synagogue, and has Jesus omit the very last verse of the quotation from Isaiah 61. Those Isaiah verses are well-known – “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 favour.” But that chapter of Isaiah included these words: “and the day of vengeance of our God.” As Michele our minister put it this morning, to omit these words changes the whole meaning of the passage.

Those neighbours of Jesus, sitting in their synagogue, might have expected the whole passage to have been read, and for the preacher to have reminded them of God’s promise to reinstate the Jewish people in fulfilment of that age-old promise. For several centuries the nation Israel had been under foreign control, and at the time of Jesus’s birth, was under the control of the hated Romans. What better than to hear the rousing reminder of Isaiah that their recovery was imminent.

But Jesus had a different theme. God’s purposes included the Jewish people, to be sure, and indeed they were central to that purpose. But that purpose went wider than the Jewish people – it encompasses all people, all nations. It was a message not of vengeance, not of overthrowing the Roman empire – that would happen in due course anyway – but of uniting the nations under God. Every single person in whatever nation comes under the unfolding divine purpose of reconciliation and unity. So Jesus went on – verse 20 onward – and reminded his audience of God’s dealing with Gentiles in the past – how Elijah was sent to a Gentile widow, and Naaman, a Syrian, was healed through Elisha. That was enough for the people of Nazareth. This was not what they wanted to hear, and they tried to throw Jesus over a cliff.

As Jesus said before he was silenced by authority, that scripture of Isaiah has already been fulfilled. The kingdom of God is here now, as it was then. And the message of Jesus is as disturbing now as it was then. Too often the Church seems to miss the opportunity to broadcast this fundamental belief in both the need and the possibility of reconciliation in our troubled world. It’s not difficult to grasp. The world-wide human family is more divided and more hostile than ever before, and we must be about building bridges of understanding and gateways to encounter. Of course every human tribe is different from others – it’s not just Tutu’s homeland that has a rainbow people. And the more we understand our differences, the sooner we will be able to celebrate our similarities.

Robin Blount

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