Don’t look now, but we’re on lectionary for the week. But we’re also having our annual congregational meeting during worship, so my job will be to find how the texts can speak in this setting. But first, the texts themselves: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a and Luke 4:14-21.

Where are we?

For last week, I ended up using the first part of 1 Corinthians 12 instead of the Romans passage I told you all about. You should really read the whole chapter to get what’s going on here. Paul has been responding to reports of division in the church at Corinth, over theological/ethical disagreements and the social dynamics that humans have always used to differentiate themselves. Chapters 10 and 11 discussed proper worship, including a discussion of how the Lord’s Supper requires that the church acknowledge its unity in Christ. The question in this chapter is about what spiritual gifts matter, namely whether speaking in tongues is the most important gift. Paul affirms that all gifts that proclaim Christ are from the Spirit, then introduces his great metaphor of the church as the body of Christ.

The passage from Luke follows immediately after the story of Jesus’ 40-day test in the wilderness, when he proves his ultimate trust in God’s Spirit. Now his public ministry begins. Unlike in Mark and John, Jesus’ first public act in Luke is not to call disciples (or is that what he’s trying to do here?). Our reading cuts off just before Jesus preaches part two of his inaugural sermon and is nearly thrown off a cliff for it. (The RCL calls for this part of the story next week, but because the week after that is the Transfiguration, I’m going to leapfrog through the Beatitudes and then take Jesus up a different kind of mountain.)

What’s going on here?

Jesus is reading from Isaiah 61:1-2, with some modifications that may refer to other parts of Isaiah. Luke doesn’t tell us why he’s mashing up the prophet like this, but it’s not the only time this kind of thing happens in the New Testament.

As Karoline Lewis points out, these themes of Jesus’ ministry resonate strongly with what his mother sang in the Magnificat. It would seem that this is what Luke thinks Jesus was here for.

“The time… when the Lord will save his people” translates more literally as “an acceptable year of [the] Lord.” Isaiah is referring to the Jubilee, where every fiftieth year was a time when all debts would be canceled, anyone who had sold themselves into slavery would be freed, and society would begin anew. So Jesus is reading a prophet citing the Law that gives God’s intention that injustice and brokenness should not be permanent.

So what?

My attention has gone to Jesus’ interpretive statement at the end of the passage: “This passage of scripture has come true today, as you heard it being read.” Has come true is loosely translating fulfilled, in the sense that the Isaiah passage was pointing ahead to this moment, and now we’re here. The root word here is one of Luke’s favorites, as the church is waiting for the fullness that is to come – the fullness, perhaps, of the prophecies that will come true; more likely, the full presence of the Holy Spirit in the world through the church.

I think I want to read this word in a couple of different senses here:

  1. Straightforwardly, Jesus is identifying himself as the Messiah, the one who is anointed by God’s Spirit, who will do all these things.
  2. Perhaps he’s trying to identify Nazareth, the home town, as the first ones to whom Jesus will/does proclaim liberty. If this is the case, the rest of the story is a problem: Jesus talks smack and gets run out of town on a rail. That would, in fact, resonate strongly with Luke’s theme that the people of the first Israel missed the boat and so the promises are applied to the church as a new Israel.
  3. Or is the point that “as [we] hear it,” the congregation is invited to receive the Spirit of the Lord that also chooses us to announce the time of God’s salvation? I find Nancy Rockwell going this way.

Jonathan Shively sees the possibility that Paul’s description of spiritual gifts might free us from the struggle of recruiting people to fill slots on boards and task groups.