December 21, 2015

The story of Jesus and the Holy Spirit continues into the synagogue at Nazareth. At Jesus' baptism in the Jordan, the Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove. After the baptism, the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness where he was tempted.

Jesus' public ministry - at least in Luke's Gospel - is inaugurated when Jesus reads from the prophet Isaiah in the Nazareth synagogue:

"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 and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour" (4.18-19).

Then, to make clear that this Scripture is not about events that are to happen at some unknown future date, Jesus adds, "Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (4.21).

Isaiah's messianic declaration is now fulfilled through the presence of Jesus. Jesus is the anointed messiah, anointed by the Holy Spirit, anointed to bring good news and liberation and the time of jubilee when all debts are forgiven.

This would be shocking to Jesus' hearers on two accounts. First, Jewish preaching focused on what God had done in the past for his people. In contrast, Jesus says God is acting today.

The lord 'has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.' - Luke 4.19

'The lord 'has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.''

Luke 4.19

Second, those in the synagogue would have been accustomed to hearing about the future coming of the messiah. Again, Jesus' emphasis is not on the future, but on the present.

Yet too often since the time of Jesus, his words in the synagogue have been spiritualized and sapped of their power. Too often, those words from Isaiah have been twisted to interpret the liberation that is proclaimed to apply only to the spiritually poor, the spiritually captive, the spiritually blind, the spiritually oppressed.

Salvation, however, is for the whole person. Throughout his ministry, Jesus healed people of real blindness, oppression and marginalization. He not only gave hope of eternal life, but also integrated outcasts into the social fabric of society.

In a time of economic enslavement, he repeatedly told parables about the forgiveness of debts and even a guaranteed daily income. This was not some metaphorical allusion to happier times after leaving the sorrows of this mortal coil. It was to happen "today."

God gave himself totally in Jesus. When God gives, he does not give part now and the rest later. God is one and indivisible. Jesus is the fullness of God's gift. When God gives his mercy, everything is set right. Now. Today. In the midst of our mundane lives.

Why then does it seem nothing has changed, that the world goes on just as it did previously?

It is because we do not accept the gift. It seems too good to be true. "Is not this Joseph's son?" those in the synagogue asked in disbelief when Jesus said, "Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." His listeners drove Jesus out of town and sought to hurl him over a cliff.

Those who heard him in the synagogue wanted to push into the future the day of the messiah's coming. "God in his fullness could not come here to our little synagogue," they thought.

But God does come. He comes in the person of the carpenter's son. He comes in the tiny Nazareth synagogue rather than with great displays of power in the glorious, mighty Temple in Jerusalem. He comes in the mundane; he comes amidst the outcasts. He comes today.

To Zacchaeus - and to all the outcasts - Jesus proclaimed, "Hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today" (Lk 19.5).

To the doubters, Jesus said, "The kingdom of God has come among you" (11.20). "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him" (11.13).

Christ does not spiritualize the promise of bringing liberty to captives and setting the oppressed free so that the promise can be fulfilled later. He fulfills it now if we but have the heart to accept the Spirit.


Jesus' good news is not political, at least in a narrow sense. However, in that it transforms history, it is political. A just society in which all receive a fair share at the banquet is an intrinsic part of salvation.

Pope Benedict XVI wrote that God's dominion over the world and over history has an "inner dynamism (that) carries history beyond itself. And yet it is at the same time something belonging absolutely to the present" (Jesus of Nazareth, vol. 1, 57).

Hurry and come down from your perch above the ebb and flow of mundane daily life. The messiah is here. He has been anointed by the Holy Spirit to transform our lives - to bring good news to the poor and liberty to captives. Not off in some distant future, but today. Today, this scripture has been fulfilled.