Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, February 20, 2019
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Good News For Whom?

Luke 4:14-21

This passage has an important place in the Gospel of Luke. This is Jesus’ first public proclamation. This is the first time he says something publicly in Luke’s Gospel. And it functions as a “thesis statement” for the whole Gospel. What is Jesus’ ministry all about? It’s about good news; EVANGEL in Greek, the root of the word evangelist; god spell in Old English, from which we get our word gospel.

We find Jesus back in Galilee after his baptism in Judea. In the first century, these two regions, Galilee and Judea, were the places with the largest Jewish populations. There were Hebrew people all throughout the Mediterranean world and Middle East, but the largest concentrations were in these two places. They were only about 25 miles apart, separated by Samaria, but they were pretty different from each other.

Judea was almost entirely Jewish in its make-up. And it was conservative. They wanted to hold onto the past and preserve traditions. They weren’t open to new ideas or new ways.

Galilee was surrounded by Gentile nations and they had a more diverse population, including many Greeks and people from Syria and Phoenicia. The Hebrew people in Galilee were more open to change and innovation. They were also more prone to over-reaction. Most of the disastrous revolts and uprisings of the Jewish people in the first century, which eventually led to the destruction of Jerusalem, had their start in Galilee.

Jesus returns to Nazareth, his hometown. Nazareth was a small town, less than 2000 people. It was the kind of town where you pretty much knew everyone, or at least you knew their family.

Nazareth was close to many important locations in Israel’s history. From the town, you could see the Valley of Jezreel, where many of the great battles in the nation’s history were fought. You could also see Mt. Carmel, where Elijah confronted the priests of Baal and Asherah. And it was also close, just four miles, to Sepphoris, the capital of Galilee.

Perhaps the people of Nazareth were a little less likely to participate in uprisings because of their proximity to Sepphoris. Sepphoris had been devastated by Roman armies in 6 AD after a Messianic uprising.

Nazareth was also close to the major roads of Galilee, so growing up there, Jesus would have met people from all over the ancient world. There were three main roads in Galilee. One went south to Jerusalem. One went east to the lands of Babylon and Parthia. And the main road was called “The Way of the Sea,” it connected Damascus in Syria to Egypt.

In these early days of his ministry, Jesus enjoyed a lot of popularity, especially in Galilee. He brought new ideas, which they appreciated. He healed and did miracles. And he challenged the hypocrisy of the religious establishment. So early on, he was well received, which in this case included an invitation to preach in the synagogue.

By the first century, the synagogue had replaced the Temple as the center of religious life for most Jewish people. Most could not go to the Temple, except perhaps once a year, or maybe only once in a lifetime. Wherever there were at least ten Jewish families, they would organize a synagogue. Each synagogue had a “ruler,” who ran the place, and a CHAZAN, an attendant who cared for the physical structure and all that was in it, including the scrolls containing the Scriptures.

The synagogue service began with prayer, followed by seven readings from the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible. At this time, the readings from the Torah were established in a three year lectionary. By the way, we still use a three year lectionary in the Church today. The CHAZAN would choose what other books were read, but it was up to the teacher to choose what passages to read from those books. Then a local priest or rabbi, or one who happened to be passing through, would teach. The CHAZAN chose the prophet Isaiah and gave it to Jesus, and Jesus chose to read from chapter 61.

Chapter 61 seems to describe the future of Israel as a restored people in the terms of a Year of Jubilee. The year of Jubilee was described in Leviticus 25. It was celebrated every 50 years, and in that year, no planting was done. The people ate what grew up on its own from prior years. And all slaves were set free, all debts were canceled, and all property reverted to its original owners. In ancient Israel, land was a permanent possession of the families to which it was assigned when they entered the

Promised Land. Land could be “sold,” but only until the Year of Jubilee, when it reverted back to the original family.

Jesus reads, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. To proclaim the release of captives, the recovery of sight to the blind, and that the downtrodden will be free from oppression, for the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

We should notice not only what Jesus is doing, but also for whom he is doing it. The recipients of his message and his work are the poor, the blind, the captive, and the oppressed. Jesus is not coming to announce good news to the wealthy, the self-sufficient, the oppressor, or those who claim they can “see.”

Who are the poor? Well, certainly we would think of the materially poor. But Jesus also spoke of the poor in spirit. The poor in spirit come before God with empty hands. They acknowledge their neediness. They have nothing before God. They are not self-righteous. They have no sense of entitlement before God; no sense that God owes them anything.

Who are the captives and oppressed? There are many forms of oppression or captivity. It can be physical thing. It can be a political or economic form of oppression. It could even be a spiritual form of oppression. Jesus cast out evil spirits from those who were oppressed by them. We should probably include emotional oppression here; those who suffer from feelings of helplessness or hopelessness.

Who are the blind? Well, Jesus healed blind people, of course. But he also brought truth to those who were ready to hear it. To hear the truth is to have one’s eyes opened. The prophet Isaiah spoke of the Messiah being a “light to the nations,” one who brings truth from God.

Do we not all want to hear good news from Jesus and experience his favor? Yes, I would think so. But are we the kind of people who are able to hear it? Are we poor, captive, blind, and oppressed? Because that’s not the kind of people the world says we should want to be. The world calls those people “losers,” not winners. But they are the ones who hear good news. We can only hear Jesus’ good news and receive his favor when we let go of what the world says we should be.

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