Thursday after Epiphany or 10 January – Gospel

Commentary on Luke 4:14-22a

After his baptism, Jesus is full of the Spirit of God. He has been commissioned and is now ready to do his Father’s work. The Gospel says he has been in Galilee already for some time and people everywhere are hearing about him as he preaches in synagogues. Today we see him in his home town of Nazareth. And, as he usually did, he went to the synagogue there on a Sabbath. As was the right of any Jew, he read from the Scripture. The passage is from the prophet Isaiah. It is a messianic prophecy which he applies to himself: “This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.”
And what does it say?
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me.” That is, the Lord has made him King and Lord. He has been made Messiah, which in Hebrew means “the Anointed One”. In Greek it is Christos (. It is a formal announcement of his identity. (Compare Mark’s gospel where Jesus hides his true identity until much later.)

And what is the mission of Jesus as Messiah?
“To bring good news of liberation to the poor.
Freedom to those in captivity.
Sight to those who are blind.
Liberation for the oppressed…”
More than any of the other gospels, Luke emphasises Jesus’ attitude to the economically and socially poor. We see that at Jesus’ first appearance in the world, when it is the poor and outcasts who are the shepherds who come to pay homage to the newborn child. The poor are also linked to the oppressed and afflicted, the forgotten and the neglected. Yet it is they who are most open to the Good News. So much so that the poor are described as “blessed”.
Jesus gives a message of liberation, of freedom for the world. It is important for us to realise that Jesus came to make us truly free. So many Christians abandon their church in order to be free. They find being Christian a stifling experience. Yet, we must insist both by the way we present the message of the Gospel and by the way we live it that, as Christians, we enjoy a particularly high level of freedom. (True freedom does not consist in doing just what we feel like doing; that can be very destructive both of ourselves and others. True freedom is the ability to make the good choice – good for oneself, good for others. Agape-love points us in that direction.)
The words of Isaiah that Jesus uses are to be taken both in their literal and in a fuller sense. It is a message for those who are materially poor, for those who are in prison, those who are blind and those who are oppressed. But all these terms can be understood in a much wider sense. There are all kinds of poverty. In addition to the material kind, there is intellectual, emotional, social poverty. There are all kinds of things which imprison people, including various forms of addictions and compulsions. Blindness is not only a physical disability but there are other forms of blindness due to ignorance, prejudice and a lack of true vision in life. There are many ways a person can experience oppression. Forces which dominate people’s lives like an obsession with materialistic values and consumerism, driving ambition at the expense of others. It is for each one to look into their own lives and see where they need liberation most.
These words of Jesus can be seen as his ‘mission statement’. It is what his whole life will be based on. It is not primarily a religious manifesto. It is a manifesto for the kind of life that every human being is called to follow.
Jesus only began this work. Its continuation and fulfilment depends on our cooperation with him. We are not to hear these words only as receivers but also as a challenge to us. To what extent am I part of this empowering, liberating, eye-opening mission of Jesus for my society and the world?
The people in the synagogue are deeply impressed by the words of Jesus but they are also amazed. “Is not this the son of Joseph?” Very soon they would turn against him. Because they presumed they knew who he was but they did not. They had grown up with him and were too close to him. A matter of familiarity breeding contempt. The same can happen to us when, as happens again and again, we cannot detect the presence of Christ in a person who is very close to us. Not only can we not see Christ in that person, like the people of Nazareth, we often do not want to.

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