Monday, May 09, 2011

Jesus' Last Sermon

Monday, May 9, 2011 -- Week of 3 Easter
Gregory of Nazianzus, Bishop of Constantinople, 389
To read about our daily commemorations, go to our Holy Women, Holy Men blog:

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 960)
Psalms 25 (morning)        9, 15 (evening)
Daniel 4:19-27
1 John 3:19 - 4:6
Luke 4:14-30

I went to bed early and slept late today after a busy and delightful weekend.  In addition to the Bishop's visitation to St. Paul's and a full morning with baptisms and confirmations, we had a full Saturday with Angi Tharakan's ordination in Russellville in the morning, David Benham's ordination in Rogers in the evening, and we hosted a get-together at the house for the bishop, our new confirmands and the vestry and staff.  Finally, I snuck in a little spring planting after everything ended.  I'm a little tired today.

When you read what Jesus chose to say as he initiated his public ministry, it's easy to see why he was controversial.  He would be controversial today.  And his followers who would pursue his agenda today will raise hackles as well.  Jesus' first sermon was a hot political potato.

Jesus had begun to have a reputation, so when he returned to his hometown synagogue in Nazareth, they invited him to speak.  He went to the scrolls.  He found the scroll for the prophet Isaiah.  Of all the words of Torah, prophets, and wisdom, these were the words he chose at this defining moment.  "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, the recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."  His commentary on this passage from Isaiah: "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

"Good news to the poor" is always a reversal of economic policies and conditions.  In virtually every nation and state, in the Roman Empire and the American Empire, it is the wealthy and the powerful who make the policy and the news.  The poor get what might trickle down.  When recession hits, the value of stocks go down for the rich -- the poor lose their jobs.  Jesus announces a reversal of priorities -- in Jesus' economy, the good news is to be addressed to the poor.  Jesus stands in a long line of great Hebrew prophets who challenged the wealthy and powerful on behalf of the poor and weak.  History shows, the wealthy and powerful don't take such challenges lightly.

"He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives..."  "Release to the captives" could mean several things.  It might mean the release of Israel, captive under Roman rule -- a freedom from oppression that was dearly wished by many Jews.  It might mean the release of those who have been accused of sedition or of challenging the absolute rule of Rome and its collaborators.  It also might mean the release of debtors from prison.  As we see often, Jesus makes debt relief a major focus of his message.  Debt was the primary way that peasants lost their land to the first century equivalent of multinational agricultural conglomerates. 

"He has sent me to proclaim ...recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free."  When Jesus began to teach in parables and words of direct challenge, he made it clear that the people who were blind were the religious and secular authorities.  They sought to control God's forgiveness, and the profitable industry around the Temple monopoly, and Jesus challenged their system by offering free access to an infinitely loving and merciful God.  He consistently supported the poor, the weak, the unclean, the foreigner, the outsider, and the sinner, offering them liberation from their various oppressions.  And what oppressed them?  Predatory economics, the military, racism and tribalism, purity traditions, business competition, religious ideology, old historic grudges, religious arrogance, and the politics of power and wealth.  Jesus was taking sides.

"He has sent me proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."  Jesus' listeners would have known what "the year of the Lord's favor" meant.  It was the Jubilee Year.  The Jubilee Year is a provision in the Torah for a sabbatical year, when all debts would be forgiven and all slaves freed, when anyone who has come under an obligation of economic servitude would be released.  It was a year when all land deals would be canceled, and the property would revert to the equitable distribution that Israel had begun with.  The Jubilee Year reverses every trend that favors the accumulation of wealth, land and power.  It is an intentional redistribution of wealth and land. 

Nazareth was a poor town.  His words were well received.  But Nazareth was also a proud town.  Charles Page has argued that its settlers were from a strict sect of ultra-orthodox, who believed that David's Messiah would come from their own clan.  They received Jesus' words with welcome.  Maybe Jesus would be the one who would reverse their fortunes.

But then Jesus spoke to their blind spot.  He refused to do any healings or signs of power in their town.  Instead, he spoke to their racism.  He reminded them that Elijah fed a foreign widow in Zarephath of Sidon when the famine hit all of the land, including Israel.  He remembered that Elisha healed the Syrian leper Naaman rather than the many lepers of Israel.  Jesus attacked their nationalism, their prejudice and tribalism, their pride of identity -- and the people of Nazareth ran him out of town.

Imagine a politician today embracing Jesus' agenda as their own political platform.  Economic policies favoring the poor, release of debts, liberation to the outsider and stranger, liberation from militarism and economic oppression, generous religious freedom, a limit to private ownership of property, equal redistribution of land and wealth, and a renunciation of every form of elitism, every pride of nationality, race or religion. 

Yeah.  That politician wouldn't do any better than Jesus.

Why is it that so many political voices today claim to speak in Jesus name, yet promote policies so far from his own?



Audio podcast:  Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week.  Click the following link:
Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at -- Click for online Daily Office
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location -- --  Click for Divine Hours

Discussion Blog:  To comment on today's reflection or readings, go to, or click here for Lowell's blog find today's reading, click "comment" at the bottom of the reading, and post your thoughts.

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at

Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 8:54 PM, Anonymous janet said...

Good news to the poor
Can we not hear truth?
Or does it pierce
too close to home



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