Monday, April 22, 2013

The Spirit is Upon Me

Today's Reading
After his baptism by John in the Jordon River, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert where he was tempted by the devil. Now Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth "in the power of the Spirit." The anointing and empowerment of the Holy Spirit will be continual themes throughout the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.

The public ministry of Jesus begins in a synagogue in Nazareth. The synagogue is the local house of worship, where God's people gather on the Sabbath to hear scripture read and expounded upon. While there was only one Temple in Jerusalem, there were synagogues found throughout the Mediterranean world, wherever ten Jewish males wished so to constitute themselves. Luke tells us that Jesus went to the synagogue, as "was his custom," which suggests that the synagogue was a central part of Jesus' own life and ministry. In fact, we will see in Luke's gospel that Jesus is frequently found teaching and preaching in the synagogue.
The text that is handed to Jesus is the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, specifically the portion of Isaiah we know as chapter 61:1-2. The words of Isaiah describe the One anointed by the Holy Spirit and sent to preach a message of hope, freedom, and healing. After reading these words, Jesus declares, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Jesus boldly claims that his own life and ministry are the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophetic vision. In response this declaration, the people are astounded and amazed.
However, these sentiments quickly change when Jesus expounds on his own mission and purpose. The people gathered in the synagogue in Nazareth assume that this message of "good news" is reserved for the Jewish people, those chosen by God. Yet Jesus implies that his message is intended for Jews and Gentiles alike, indeed the message of Jesus is for all people. He reminds his listeners that Elijah was sent to "a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon," a non-Jew. Likewise, Elisha was sent to Naaman the Syrian, also a non-Jew. Jesus is emphasizing that his message of "good news" - the mesage of God's kingdom - is not only for the religious establishment, the privileged and elite of his society, but this "good news" embraces the widow, the unclean, the Gentile, those of the lowest status.

As we reflect on our call to participate in God's mission, it is important that we remember always that God's love and his promise of salvation have been extended to everyone. How is God calling us to "lift our vision higher" to see the expansive and radical love and power of Jesus at work in the world?

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