The following is a reflection on Luke 4:14-21, the Gospel lesson for the Epiphany 3C, according to the Revised Common Lectionary.
There is no shortage of commentary on this passage, oftentimes known as the “Nazareth Inaugural.” In some ways it’s become the manifesto of mainline Christianity. I remember my days in seminary hearing this passage almost monthly.
Personally, I love the drama of the scene.
Jesus comes home. He goes to his home worshipping community, as he must have done countless times as a young one. He’s handed the scroll. He opens the scroll to just the right place. He reads. He hands it back to the attendant. He sits down.
Everyone stares at him waiting for what is to come next.
There’s an intensity here, even beyond the words from Isaiah.
Jesus is on a mission, but the people of his hometown are also expecting something.
Who knows what they were expecting? He hadn’t done a whole lot yet—we’re still only in the fourth chapter of Luke. He’s been baptized, he’s gone into the wilderness, and he’s just begun his ministry. We’re told in the paragraph just prior to this story that “report about him spread through all the surrounding country,” but we aren’t told what that report consisted of.
My guess is that the people were expecting something, but they had no idea what that something was.
In this sense, is the congregation in Nazareth all that different from our own congregations?
Don’t we all go to church expecting something? But, do any of us really take the time to articulate what that something is?
Some, I suppose, expect to hear a good sermon. Not too long, not too short. Some expect to sing a nice (i.e. familiar) hymn or song. Some expect to be welcomed, and to see people we know. We expect when it’s all over that we’ll have a cup of coffee.
But, how many of us go to church really expecting the Spirit of God to actually show up? Do we expect news so good that it might shatter the despair of the poor? Do we expect release, recovery, and the ending of oppression?
And, do we really want all of that to begin with—and would we rather just receive a little comfort, a little encouragement, and nothing that will rock the boat?
In any case, the people of Nazareth weren’t ready for the anointing presence of the Holy Spirit to come in with their small-town-boy-made-good when they got up that morning for synagogue. After he makes his little declaration that the prophesy of Isaiah had come to fulfillment in their presence—think about that!—they got angry and sent him packing.
It does make you wonder about the phenomenon of expectation, and what it means in the life of faith. Do we go to church looking to fulfill our own (oftentimes paltry, self-centered) expectations?
Or, do we come ready and open to see God’s expectations manifest themselves before our very eyes?