We have quite a contrast in today’s readings between the 1st reading from the book of Nehemiah and the Gospel reading from Luke.
A New Beginning:
The extract we have from the Book of Nehemiah (8:2-6, 8-10) could be described as a highlight moment and a revival of sorts in the history of the people of Judah. They had returned from exile in Babylon. In the previous chapters we find a detailed description by Nehemiah of the rebuilding of the walls around the city of Jerusalem. Now in the relative safety within the walls of their capital city, Ezra, the priest, stood up on a wooden platform which had been constructed for the occasion. He was raised above the assembled people, men, women and those children, old enough to understand, and he read to them from the Book of the Law. From early morning until noon, he read to them from the Book of the Law, and he made sure they understood what was being read to them. It was a jubilant celebration. The religious rites had been re-established, the law was clearly explained, and the people knew what they had to do.
A New Beginning:
On the Sabbath, Jesus entered the synagogue in Nazareth and he read from the book of the Prophet Isaiah. It wasn’t a special occasion. It was a regular Sabbath. The synagogue held no major gathering, and the setting of Nazareth, a simple village, for this new beginning was a far cry from the importance of Jerusalem.
Jesus, too, had made a return – a return from the desert. When he stood up to read, he did not read about rules and observances. He found a passage in Isaiah that was about a call, in fact an anointing – an anointing by the Spirit for a task of healing and liberation. When he sat down to preach, all eyes were fixed on him. We do not know what he preached, but we have been handed on these words, “This text is being fulfilled today, even as you listen.” It’s nice and easy to think that Jesus was talking about himself. He was the agent of healing and liberation. What if Jesus was staring back into the eyes fixed on him and telling them that the scripture is fulfilled in so far as they are the agents of healing and liberation. And isn’t Jesus giving us the same message?
Here we certainly have a new beginning, a revival of sorts – that we are all called and anointed by the Spirit of God to be the agents of healing and liberation. Our faith is not the observances we keep, but the call and anointing we accept.
Then what is our message when we preach the Good News – is it from the book of the law or from the prophets – and how can we be agents of having people understand that this scripture is fulfilled in them? The call and the anointing by the Spirit of God to be agents of healing and liberation is for all of us. Imagine we are entrusted with this! That is truly a new beginning, a revival. May our preaching be a true revival to those who listen, read, or simply know us.
Elizabeth Ferguson OP