3 Epiphany – January 23, 2022
Our gospel ends today with the words of Jesus: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Has it? Jesus seems convinced of it, at least. And to get a little Greek language insight, the verb “has been fulfilled” is in the perfect tense. Which means that the Scripture has indeed been fulfilled in its hearing and the effect of that hearing is an ongoing reality.
In other words, “today” isn’t a static term, it is far more dynamic, as in “today is just the beginning.” The tense of Jesus’ declaration that “the Scripture has been fulfilled” isn’t the once and done present tense or the singular past tense but the ongoing, even repetitive, and definitely re-occurring perfect tense. So Jesus is kind of saying, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled and continues to be fulfilled and will keep being fulfilled and therefore will keep needing to be fulfilled in your presence.”
So the question for us is this – “Is the scripture being fulfilled an ongoing reality for us, today”?
Let’s look at this again…Jesus does the unexpected, the unimaginable, on that memorable sabbath morning in Nazareth. He claims for himself the ancient prophetic words as his own mission statement. The reason God’s Spirit came crashing down on him at his baptism was to empower him to do precisely this: to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free, proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, the sweet Jubilee Year, when the economy will be newly conformed to God’s justice.
Jesus takes all this as his mission statement; he is not content to leave it as only a string of high-sounding words. Everything that follows in his life, as presented to us in the Gospel, amounts to the living out of the prophecy he claims for himself that sabbath morning in Nazareth.
After all, the man left in the ditch is seen and helped by the Samaritan. The son of the widow of Nain is raised to life. The prodigal son is welcomed home, even Zacchaeus is seen up in that tree and gets a dinner party with Jesus.
But Luke’s gospel does not end at Chapter 24, Verse 51. Jesus’ sermon is ours to finish. Or, maybe a better way to say that is, it is ours to keep on living. But, how do we do that? Is anyone else a little skeptical about how we proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor?
Today is a key word. But today the Omicron variant is overwhelming. Hospitals are reaching capacity, physicians and nurses are exhausted, national and local economies are flailing, and Covid’s death toll continues to rise. And this is before we mention any of the other challenges facing us. Wars and threats of wars. Violence of many types. The catastrophic effects of climate change. The long shadow of racial injustice. Alarming breakdowns in civility and basic kindness. Rising epidemics of anxiety, depression, addiction, and despair. So who?, Who would reasonably call our current moment holy, or favored of God?
You know, in both of our stories today we are asked to attend to “now”, to “today”. Today — which shimmers with the presence, the blessing, and the favor of God.
Let’s look at our story from Nehemiah, starting with a little background: When Nehemiah hears that Jerusalem is a broken, fire-razed wreck, he begs the king to let him return to his homeland and rebuild the city of his ancestors. The obstacles to the rebuilding are fierce and numerous, but Nehemiah persists, and finally succeeds in restoring Jerusalem’s wall and gates. He then invites his people back from exile, and asks them to gather in the square before the Water Gate for an assembly.
Following an intense divine encounter, the people embrace the day and time they live in as “holy to the Lord.” This story offers us a beautiful and multifaceted picture of what can happen when we seek the presence of God together; and allow that presence to infuse every part of our lives. Remember, the Israelites who gather at the Water Gate to hear the reading of the Torah are not people living in a “happily ever after” world, with all of their trials behind them. They are people newly returned from exile to a homeland that is still in ruins. Their traumas are fresh and their future is unclear. Their most recent memories are memories of loss, dislocation, oppression, and chaos. Sound familiar?
And yet, something powerful happens among them when Ezra opens the book and reminds them of who they are in the long arc of God’s story. What happens is not magic. What happens is transformation. As the people consent to listen to God’s word with their whole hearts, to receive what’s read in a spirit of openness and vulnerability, and to express their comprehension as honestly as they can, everything changes.
To be clear, the honesty they express includes sorrow, lament, and repentance. And they weep in relief that the exile is over, and Jerusalem — razed though it is — is once again their home. God’s word — living and active among them — holds all of this. It allows all of this, and blesses all of this.
Now back to Jesus’ story. Jesus opens the book and makes the old words of the tradition his own: “God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” As if to say: the Word lives, here and now. Today. It is organic, it breathes, it moves in fresh and revolutionary ways. The Word of God is neither dull nor dead. It is alive.
You are invited to be part of God’s fulfillment of God’s promises. Today. Tomorrow. And the next day. Admittedly, that invitation can be daunting, leading to a variety of self-doubting questions: Me, us, really? Have you been paying attention? The problems just now seem so big!
But the invitation can also be empowering: “Me, us, really? We can make a difference? You mean the small things we do matter? That God is at work in our lives and relationships for the sake of the world? Yes!”
During this season of Epiphany, we are invited again and again to look for signs and glimpses of revelation. Of light. Of God’s transformative presence. We are called to trust that even in the mundane day-to-day of life on earth, God’s “now” brims with the possibility of joy and feasting.
There is a plaque attached to the outside façade of the chapel that is built around the rock where Jesus hosted that last meal for his disciples. The plaque’s inscription is based on the calling of the first disciples in Luke, “Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’” And so the plaque reads, “The deeds and miracles of Jesus are not actions of the past. Jesus is waiting for those still prepared to take risks at his word because they trust his power utterly.”
I encourage you to spend some time this week considering how God might be calling you to use your gifts, now, today. Pray about it. Your prayers don’t need to be elaborate. Just ask in the morning, when you rise, “Lord, what can I do,? How can I help today? Use me today” Then spend a minute or two in silence––giving God a chance to respond. You may not hear anything and that’s OK.
But do that each day for a week. If you will do that, God may just surprise you with the wonderfully good news that you can be a blessing––and that in giving you will receive a blessing.
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Lord Jesus, may it be so. Amen.