“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.”
These words from the prophet Isaiah are often read during Advent. Some receive them with fond nostalgia, while others experience deep longing. They are familiar words about a hoped-for future. And when read from Isaiah, they can feel somewhat distant.
This text from Luke invites a much more immediate hearing. Here is Jesus, fresh from his encounter with the devil in the wilderness. The waters of his baptism have dried, but his baptism of the Spirit is ongoing. Word of his teaching has begun to spread through the countryside. Now he has arrived in his hometown of Nazareth to preach his inaugural sermon.
When he speaks these prophetic words from Isaiah, there is not only the opportunity to witness his bold proclamation that he is the fulfillment of the promise, but also the crowd’s reaction—the first and the second.
After Jesus reads from the scriptures and declares that he is the anointed one, Luke says that all were amazed. Those who knew Jesus when he was just a little boy are delighted. They speak well of him, and they wonder, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” This is their first reaction.
And then Jesus turns the tables, not the last time he will do so. He sees through their admiration. He knows they want him to perform wonders for them—his people—as he has done for others. But Jesus knows what they really need is difficult truth. The truth that release, healing, and freedom are for everyone, not just for them. Ouch.
Jesus reminds them of the years of drought in which Elijah is sent, not to an insider, but to an outsider from Zarephath. And among all the lepers Elisha could have healed, God sends him to heal Naaman, the Syrian.
Jesus’ proclamation is both good news and difficult truth. And this leads to the crowd’s second reaction—anger. They realize that Jesus is criticizing them for their exclusivity and preoccupation with purity, and they are filled with rage. They attempt to drive him out of town so they can throw him off a cliff.
In Jesus, Isaiah’s prophecy is not an image of a distant future but an immediate call. Jesus calls the people to bring release, healing, and freedom for all people, as God has been doing throughout their history. And there is also the reminder that what is good news for one can be difficult truth for another.
Read the words that Jesus speaks from the prophet Isaiah in Luke 4:18-19.
- What might those words look like in your own community?
- How are Jesus’ words good news for you?
- How are they difficult truth?
God, remind me daily that you are for all people. Help me to receive your gift of healing even as I work to bring about your healing for others. Amen.
This Bible study, written by Carrie Martens, comes from Shine: Living in God’s Light, the Sunday school curriculum published by Brethren Press and MennoMedia.