Luke 4:14-21 – the Third Sunday after Epiphany – for January 27, 2013
“The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.” (Luke 4:20)
Jesus stands in a synagogue on the Sabbath, the people in the crowded space gazing at him, and reads from Isaiah.
But this is not just any synagogue in the backwaters of the Roman Empire, it is the place of worship in Jesus’ hometown . . . where he had been brought up, the Gospel reminds the reader. He is in a familiar room, once seen through the eager or bored eyes of youth, once a place where his mother and father were protectively near him, once a place where—like all children—he could easily vanish behind an adult’s broad back or say something insightful and have everyone focus their attention on him. This was home. These were friends.
He’s Joseph and Mary’s kid.
He’s the carpenter’s son.
In a village, wouldn’t everyone have a memory? He’s the kid with the quick wit, the far-away look, the sad eyes and infectious laugh. A hundred distinctive voices could say, I remember when . . . Jesus ran home, chased by an angry hive of bees or when he stayed by Joseph’s side and helped his old man finish a carpentry project or was the one who found that lost lamb after it wandered away from the flock. They would remember. He was one of theirs. All of them in the sweltering, stark place of worship had yelled at, nodded to, chatted with, scolded, praised and greeted the boy Jesus.
Now something’s different.
He’s a man. Grown. Up.
Rumors about Joseph and Mary’s son include an encounter with the oddball John in the River Jordan.
There are snippets of discussion about the length of time he wandered in the wilderness. All by himself, some said. Didn’t take any food, others said. Gone for weeks. No, it was only for days. Never happened, a few are convinced. They might argue this, but no one had asked Jesus how long, where, why, or even if. Sometimes, isn’t it more fun to gossip and speculate?
And now here he was, now finished with reading those stirring, ancient words from Isaiah—The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor . . .—that the worshippers always love to hear, and yet always hate to hear.
They are, after all, the poor . . . the poorest of the poor. None of them in Nazareth’s synagogue will ever trod the boulevards of Rome, but they don’t need to visit to understand that faraway city’s opulence, its emperors, its weapons and wealth and wrathful ways. Those distant rich lord over these poor folk. Everyone they know in Galilee—yes, damn it, every single blessed and cursed one of them—is poorer than the hardscrabble dirt they till. If they lose a lamb or a harvest or even a single Roman coin with Caesar’s contemptuous profile, they’ll barely survive the next season. All of those who just heard Isaiah read have hungry children at home and wives bent and wrinkled before turning thirty. They’ve all buried too many children. They’ve all cared for the widows and orphans.
They are Isaiah’s the poor. They are the ones who foolishly, futilely dream of good news. But it’s only a dream.
Jesus finishes. He relinquishes the scroll with the scrawled longings of Isaiah to an attendant. Steady hands roll the old, crinkled hopes into a tight cylinder. Someone coughs. Another steps on his neighbor’s toes and there’s a yelp. A door opens and closes. Candles sputter. Flies buzz. A question about the price of wheat is whispered, but no one answers.
The scroll is tucked away, safe in its proper spot, as harmless as a faded wine stain on a table.
There’s a hush. Unexpected silence. No whispering. Not a cough. Some see Jesus clearly. Some peer around the broad shoulders of the person in front of them. Some have no view, but all wait . . .
It is that moment.
Do you remember how you felt, on the verge of asking your beloved if she or he would marry you?
Do you remember how you felt when you anticipated voicing the awkward words of forgiveness to the friend hurt by your actions?
Do you remember how you felt just before talking about the birth of your child or getting your first “real” job or the acceptance into the college you never thought would say yes to you?
It is the silence before the revealing. It is that moment of hope, promise, possibility, expectation, when what has been dreamed may, might, could, perhaps will become reality.
Not a whisper. Not a cough. Breath is held. All eyes are wide open.
They are no longer poor. They are no longer forgotten. They are no longer without power. The synagogue thrums with hope.
“Today,” Jesus said, “this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”