After reading the introduction to the Gospel of Luke (1:1-4), the Lectionary divides the scene of Jesus at the synagogue in Nazareth over two Sundays.
As we read last Sunday, Jesus is assigned to read the scripture for the day. He is handed Isaiah’s scroll but he has a choice on what passage to read. Familiar with scripture as he was, Jesus immediately finds the passage he wants to read. We have to understand his choice as Jesus giving us his “mission statement.”
A few years ago it was in fashion that all kinds of institutions, including churches, would draft their mission and vision statements. The idea was to summarize the identity and the scope of action of the institution. This is exactly what Jesus does in the synagogue in the town that saw him grow: he draws from the greatest of the prophets to proclaim what he sees his identity and mission to be:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
The chosen passage prompts a series of questions to be asked of the Church, any faith community, and any individuals who consider themselves Christian: do we feel anointed, individuals and communities who see themselves as having been given a mission? Are we about bringing good news, especially to the poor? Do we work to end captivity, understood as the fight against the many things that become restrictions to our freedom today? Do we help people in the task of learning to see things the way Jesus would see them?
We often feel more annoyed than anointed; we do not live the good news, so how are we going to communicate it; we live a faith of rule and ritual that ignores the demands it should have towards our neighbors, especially the poor; our preaching may just help people to continue dwelling in complacency in the name of formal purity and observance; we focus on some captivities and ignore some blatant others; and we continue conveying the idea of a God of condemnation more than the merciful Father Jesus continuously spoke about.
A message like this will always provoke conflict, which is why the “eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.” But Jesus just repeated, indeed, this is me. As we will read this Sunday, those gathered in a sacred place of faith try to kill him for the first time. It took Jesus all of four chapters to get in serious trouble.