Scripture - Luke 4:14-21
14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18“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, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20And 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. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
This is often a passage that gets pulled out this time of year, during this Epiphany season, which in the Christian year is the time between Christmas and Lent where we see the revelation of Jesus’s mission and purpose on earth made known to the people - through his baptism, through his miracles, and through his teaching. It’s a season of exploring Jesus’s identity - who is this person of power and filled with the Spirit who has appeared among us? This story, in particular, is a fairly familiar one, where Jesus returns to his home region and everyone’s really excited about Jesus and talked up - and then he gets to his hometown and - well, if you read on in the chapter, the people end up wanting to throw Jesus off the nearest cliff, so it didn’t really go over so well for hometown hero Jesus.
Jesus was given the scroll of Isaiah - a detail that I hadn’t noticed before in the reading - and he unrolled it to find a particular set of passages - a combination of Isaiah 61:1-2 and 58:6. This is kind of like Jesus’ manifesto - if you want to know what Jesus himself thought about his work in the world, you could go back to this moment and these set of verses from the Prophets, and you would get a sense of how Jesus understood himself and what he was sent to do.
What I find fascinating as I read the passage this week - and as I looked up these two passages from Isaiah - isn’t so much what Jesus says - but what Jesus didn’t say from that reading. If you look up Isaiah 61:1-2, you’ll find “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;”
Jesus, though, doesn’t read the line about vengeance. Jesus stops at proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor, and adds his own tagline that the scripture has been fulfilled today in their hearing.
No more vengeance - it’s the year of the Lord’s favor - and it’s here, right now, right in front of you.
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. It’s a notion that connects with the Jewish concept of Jubilee - a year observed once in 50 years (following seven sabbatical years, where you let the land rest every seven years). In the Jubilee year, slaves and prisoners would be set free, debts would be forgiven, and land rights restored. The provisions for this practice are outlined in Leviticus 25. The time of Jubilee was one of restoration and liberty for all - people, creatures, even the land - and in that movement of freedom, the fullness of God’s presence would be made known, as well as ultimate reliance upon God’s provision as the land rested from intentional cultivation.
Jesus’s hometown congregation would have known the practice of sabbath years and heard the promises of a Jubilee year - we don’t really know if the Jubilee was ever something actually enacted and celebrated and it most likely wasn’t something practiced in Jesus’ time. So to hear Jesus proclaim that the time was here and now, that the scripture has been fulfilled, that the year of the Lord’s favor was here and today - no wonder their first reaction was amazement - that this era of liberation and restoration and return was here.
I love how the lectionary commentary from the Salt Project puts it: “Great Jubilee, a new era of liberation, restoration, and return. Accordingly, this good news comes first of all not to the free but to captives, not to the comfortable but to the disadvantaged and downtrodden. In this “inaugural address” of his ministry, Jesus is crystal clear that the Gospel is above all about God “lifting up the lowly” — words we’ve heard ring out in song in Mary’s “Magnificat,” and therefore a theme Jesus no doubt first learned from his mother. But the Jubilee ideal, please note, isn’t only for the benefit of the poor — it’s also for the health of creation as a whole. Everyone benefits when liberty and wellbeing extend across the entire neighborhood; that’s the heart of “Jubilee.” And so following Jesus, as it turns out, isn’t merely about chasing down our own salvation; it’s about participating in God’s restoration of the most vulnerable, proclaiming good news to the poor, and helping to build a world worthy of that proclamation.”
Jesus was saying that the year of the lord’s favor - the Jubilee - the time of redemption and restoration - was here. Today the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
Now if I was sitting where you all are, and if Jesus himself got up and said the exact same thing he did nearly 2000 years ago, I would laugh. Seriously. If someone said that 2022 was the year of the Lord’s favor, I would have to wonder what in the world they saw that would make that statement true. Because what has 2022 brought us so far? Omicron and continuing climate devastation and nations continually at war and refugees fleeing for their lives and mental health crises and a breakdown in basic civility and kindness toward our neighbors, particularly between folks who disagree politically. I don’t see much favor there.
I don’t think I need to paint any more of a picture here - I think you get what I’m going for.
There is nothing like a Jubilee out there.
And yet - goddess - what better time than now, when so many of us are desperate for a different way of being and for racial justice to break forth, for equal access to health care, to renew bonds with our neighbors, see opportunities for housing, to welcome the stranger and foreigner among us, to give prisoners a better opportunity in life - when….people are so fed up with everything, they will go out to meet up with strangers to scream their frustrations together… what better time than to point to the change that is coming - that restoration and liberation is wholeness is not just on it’s way, but available here, right now, for you and for me?
And what if the year of the Lord’s favor, what if Jubilee, is not something that’s handed to us, but a decision that each of us has to make about how we live and breathe and move about in the world? A choice we make about how we see and perceive things, about how we spend our time and energy, about we give ourselves over to?
Debie Thomas at Journey with Jesus writes, “the time for transformation, renewal, and metanoia is at hand… Lean into liberation today. Accept the joy of the Lord today. The time of the Lord’s favor — luminous and rich — stands in front of them, embodied before their very eyes, if only they will dare to see it. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
To live as if the year of the Lord’s favor - that Jubilee - is here - it’s a different kind of work.
And as much as I think we can make this choice as individuals - what if we took it a step further and imagined what a Jubilee year looks like for our congregation? What does the year of the Lord’s favor mean for us? What does accepting joy look like together? Letting the work lie fallow and tending to the seeds deep within our life together in sabbath rest? Exercising trust together? What does releasing captives and healing others look like?
And I have to wonder if as we tend to this different rhythm of life together - one marked by joy and celebration, a resting in grace and sabbath mercies - and as we lean into those spaces for ourselves personally - the work of liberation and healing isn’t so much work as it is witness. We live it, we become it, and it in and of itself becomes a signpost of hope and freedom for others…and our role becomes journeying with people as they are drawn deeper into the love of God and the companionship of Christ.
So I want to give you a little bit more time to mull this over in your doodles - as you consider what the year of the Lord’s favor looks like for you. What does it feel like as you imagine embodying that for you….and what about for this congregation? What color does joy represent - and what about wholeness? Liberation? What does freedom even look like for you, for this church? Spend some time doodling - and if it’s not your thing, free associate some words. I want us to get out of the rational part of our heads and into our more emotional, embodied self with this - so let the spirit take you where it will!
Doodle time (playlist)
After worship - take your phone or camera….and snap a picture of what you came up with, and email it to me or the church - you don’t need to sign your work if you don’t want to - and I’ll put it all together so that we can have a reminder of what this Jubilee year means for us as we make our way in the weeks and months ahead.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon us - this is the year of the Lord’s favor. Thanks be to God! Amen.
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Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.