Immanuel to Read Us!
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” —Luke 4:14-21
The attendant handed Jesus the scroll of Isaiah. It was common for any young man to read a portion of the Old Testament prophets and make comments on it. As Jesus read, he felt the words coming alive in his bones. The Spirit of the Lord was on him and in him like fire in the bones of Jeremiah. The Spirit pushed him as he had done in the Judean desert. Jesus read the text with compassion when he looked up to see the people in the synagogue who needed to hear some good news from God. It had been missing for years. His voice rose as the words “freedom,” “prisoners,” “recovery of sight,” “set the oppressed free,” and “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” rolled from his lips. The Scriptures never sounded so true. The crowd urged Jesus to keep reading. They wanted to him to get to the next part of the passage, which said, “. . . and the day of vengeance of our God” (Isa. 61:2b). Every Jew yearned for the day when the Roman Empire would be overthrown and destroyed by God. The crowd might have said to themselves, “Say it, Jesus! Make it plain.”
But Jesus stopped reading. The crowd wondered if he had made a slight mistake to stop without finishing the sentence. Maybe they thought they should give him another chance to make good. He was a rockstar, and they wanted to be a part of his entourage. The rabbis were suspicious of this guy who appeared to be orthodox but didn’t interpret the Word like they remembered from their seminary professors.
Every eye and ear were glued to Jesus with anticipation. What would he say next? As his mouth opened, the people were ready to hear another piece of angelic eloquence from their native son. Jesus surveyed the crowd and knew their hearts were not with him. They wanted their wills to be done. Jesus announced, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
The people were scratching their heads. Why? The crowd did not notice that the incarnation of God was right in front of them. He was God’s promised Messiah! Jesus was after more than applause or compliments—he wanted the people to become living drum majors for mercy and justice. They had forgotten that their enemies needed God’s love and justice. Their opponents were on the lookout for mercy.
Our Lord wants us to be incarnate witnesses in our daily lives too.
May the Lord keep reading us into prayerful action for justice.
Incarnate Master Jesus, we recognize our own freedom from sin and make haste to bring freedom to other captives of sin and injustice. Being set free from the prisons of sin and death, we seek to work tirelessly for the release of people in need of our help. May the Scriptures of justice keep reading us this Advent season. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Reginald Smith is the director of the Offices of Race Relations and Social Justice of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. Born and raised in Chicago, Reggie has served as a pastor in Paterson, New Jersey, and in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He enjoys life and ministry with his wife, Sharon, and their three daughters, Janelle, Katrina, and Mariah. Reggie’s passions include leadership, teaching, preaching, community relations, and community development.