Christ preaching in the synagogue, Visoki Decani Monastery, Kosovo 14th century.
Throughout the Gospel of Luke, the Holy Spirit is actively in pursuit of people. Zechariah was told that he would have a son, who would be “filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth (Luke 1:15). A few verses later, an angel appears to Mary, and tells her that through the power of the Most High, the Holy Spirit will come upon her, and she will bear a child who will be the Son of God (Luke 1:35). Six short verses later, Mary’s kinswoman Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit, and sings a song of praise at the approach of Mary, the God-bearer. Elizabeth’s unborn child leaps for joy, animated by that same Spirit, just as had been foretold to his father Zechariah. After John’s birth, Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit, and overflows with a song of prophecy and power (Luke 1:67). After Jesus’s own birth, as he is being presented in the Temple, the Holy Spirit guides Simeon into the Temple to see the baby Jesus, and elicits a song of thanksgiving and joy (Luke 2: 26-27).
In our gospel today, Jesus himself has been filled with the Holy Spirit after his baptism and time in the wilderness. That same Spirit leads him to the synagogue—a place where people think they know him, where they have categorized him in safe, predictable ways: this is Jesus, the carpenter’s son, raised in humble circumstances. And, really, are we that much different from Jesus’s neighbors? We know who Jesus is—or, we think we do. It’s funny—we think Jesus is just like us, and that makes us feel safe, smug even, sometimes. But Jesus is having none of that. Rather, Jesus calls us to be just like him. And that’s an enormous difference.
Right now we are roiled by political turmoil both within our church and without, and perhaps that’s the nature of human society—that very term “human society” implies that our eyes are upon ourselves rather than opened to see what God is doing among us in every moment. If the events of recent weeks have shown us anything, it’s that whenever we think we have Jesus sorted out into nice, neat categories, we are in danger of distorting his gospel message. We like the domesticated Jesus. The Jesus sung about in children’s songs, the ones who loves the little children of the world, the one who’s got the whole world in his hands, the sweet, silent baby lying in the manger.
But, as the Church especially, that is not the Jesus we really need, and that is not the Jesus we get, if we pay attention. The Gospel of Luke makes it clear again and again that the Spirit moves where She will, and fills us with power, coming upon us and resting upon us not to be filled with certainty but instead with possibility. That same Spirit which inspired Mary’s rebellious shout of prophecy and praise in the Magnificat pours forth from Jesus in today’s gospel. The words of Isaiah, coming from the mouth of Jesus, give us a foretaste here at the start of his ministry of what he is going to be about—and by extension, when the Church hears this passage, we are reminded of what WE are to be about. Called by the Holy Spirit, we have been anointed—set apart and specially commissioned—to proclaim through our words and our actions to
Bring good news through our words and deeds to those who are vulnerable and impoverished, both in body and in spirit;
Announce release and true freedom—the freedom not found in society but in the Beloved Community of Jesus-- to all who are captives, both in body and in spirit;
Open the eyes and heal those who are blind, both in body and in spirit;
Unbind the oppressed and liberate them from all that marginalizes them, both in body and in spirit;
Proclaim the Jubilee, a time of spiritual and physical abundance and completion—truly a rebellious act in a time of defined by real (and, for some of us, imagined) scarcity and want.
Body and spirit, body and spirit—these are unified and brought to life through the power that Jesus speaks through to us even today as we listen to this gospel. This is the blueprint, the battle plan, for those of us who dare to call ourselves children of God. Animated by his willingness to surrender to the Holy Spirit, Jesus has just dropped a truth bomb before us, and, just like those in the synagogue, the eyes of each and every one of us can’t help but be fixed upon Jesus as the meaning sinks in. Here, in the Episcopal Church, our Presiding Bishop joyfully and repeatedly reminds us that we are members of the Jesus Movement. But we can’t be part of the Jesus Movement unless we also see that now is a Jesus Moment. The Spirit seeks to shake us loose but set us free. We are called to be a Spirit-filled people, with each moment a revolution—a literal turning and reordering from the power of culture to the power of the Holy Spirit. This is our Moment. The Spirit of the Lord is upon us.
(This was first posted at Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul on January 24, 2016.)