“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus said it. And He said it as the conclusion to His reading from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor…to proclaim liberty to captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
He said this in His home town, in the synagogue where He had been brought up, to people who had known Him since He was a child. So what does it mean for these things to be “fulfilled in your hearing”? What is He saying to them? What is He saying to us, now that we have heard His words with our own ears?
In one sense, this is Jesus’ inaugural address, marking the beginning of His three years to the cross. But it’s not just a list of things He intends to do. Rather, for Jesus, saying that this is fulfilled in their hearing means that it’s as good as done already because He has come!
And St. Luke goes on to record just that. Good News to the poor—as Jesus gains a big reputation for mingling with the poorest and the most outcast of Judean and Galilean society. Liberty to the captives—as Jesus forgives sinners, heals lepers, raises up a widow’s dead son and a man’s beloved daughter. Sight to the blind—yes, some blind eyes see because of Jesus’ touch, but in Luke’s Gospel, more often it means the unbeliever comes to faith. And the year of the Lord’s favor? That favor goes everywhere Jesus goes…finding its fullness on Good Friday and Easter.
So in part, it is true, as St. Luke writes in his introduction to his Gospel, that all these things are recorded so that the reader may be certain about the things concerning Jesus…can be certain that Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Son of God.
For what? To coax that reader into taking a famous leap of faith and giving Jesus a try? Uff da, that reminds me of Ole and Lena. You know, dat time ven dey lived vay up nort in Minnesota. It vas early in da vinter, and da lake had yust frozen over.
Ole vas out chopping vood, and he asked Lena to valk across the frozen lake to da yeneral store on da odder side to get him some beer. “Ya, OK,” Lena said, “Can I haf some money?” Ole replied, “Nei, yust put it on our tab.”
So Lena vent off, sliding along da ice and got da beer at the yeneral store, and den she valked back across the lake. Ven she got home, she gave Ole da beer, but den she said, “Ole, yoo are alvays telling me not to run up a tab at da store. Vhy didn’t yoo yust give me some money for da beer?” Ole got a tender look in his eyes and replied, “I didn’t vant yoo out dere vit some money if da ice vasn’t thick enuf to hold yoo!” Ya…ain’t love grand?!
But what sort of Jesus is that? Maybe He’ll hold up, maybe not? Such a leap-of-faith-Jesus is a walk onto mighty thin ice! Ya sure, Jesus can get us through the day. He can motivate us to do something about poverty. He can provide us a social ethic and resolve intellectual problems. But, hey!, people use many things to get them through the day. Indignation can motivate a crusade against poverty. And if you want a social ethic, there’s a vast array of them available these days, not to mention plenty of talking heads to solve our intellectual problems. So, sure, give Jesus a try…but once those problems are solved…who really needs Him?
That’s why there is more here than an announcement about some human problems which Jesus has come to fix. And that something more is in His comment: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” “Today”…with your own ears.
That word, “Today,” is used by St. Luke in a number of places to underscore the immediacy of what is taking place. Perhaps the two most well known uses are at the beginning and at the end of his Gospel. At the beginning the angel says to the shepherds, “Unto you is born…today…a Savior which is Christ the Lord.” And then at the end, the crucified Jesus says to the thief at His right hand, “Today…you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
This isn’t a problem solving word…as if the angel’s “Today” solved the problem of boredom among the shepherds, giving them something to do in going find a Baby. And neither is Jesus’ “Today” to that dying thief solving his major problem of what comes next. In fact, in both cases, the “Today” likely created many more problems than it solved!
No…in St. Luke “Today” is not a problem solving word. It’s a faith word. The shepherds, the dying thief, they heard that Word…“Today”…with their own ears. They believed and acted.
The hometown crowd in Nazareth? Well, they too heard with their own ears…but there is no belief; some admiration, but no belief. And their actions confess it. Trumping Jesus, the angry mob is moved by their unbelief, “today,” to try and kill Him by throwing Him off a nearby cliff. So much for their “leap of faith.”
And yet, despite that mob faith is what’s in Jesus’ words. Faith which comes by hearing those words…with our own ears. Last Christmas we heard with our own ears the word of the angel: “Today…a Savior is born for you.” Today! And where there is faith, we to see that no more must we be our own savior, no more must we look to the government or some unknown force to save us. By this Word, faith knows that today we have a Savior, Christ the Lord. And such faith colors everything in our lives.
And for many, many Good Fridays we have heard Jesus’ Word from the cross. “Today…with Me…Paradise.” And where faith listens, that Word fills us with hope. Hope, not just about that mysterious hereafter, but hope which colors all the days of our lives now. Today, we know that we are already as good as there with Him in Paradise. So this faith orders all our days and our deeds around such hope!
So likewise here, Jesus’ inaugural sermon, which we have now heard with our own ears: “Today…good news…liberty…sight…favor.” Today! It is a word of faith for faith.
Oh sure…not every ear that hears believes—not in Nazareth, not today. The Word just goes in one ears and out the other. Skepticism reigns, always demanding more proof that the ice is thick enough to trust it. And, yes, unbelief can be compelled to act by force…but that’s not faith. Faith come by hearing. So wherever there is unbelief, we speak and speak and speak again…so that in hearing, unbelief might give way to faith.
But where there is faith…faith which comes by hearing this Word with our own ears…such faith, having listened, will go out and do whatever faith hears in this Word from Jesus. Faith doesn’t have to be told what to do! Nor does faith worry whether one act is “more” Christian than another. Faith listens. Faith acts.
And for some, their faith acts to carry the good news for the poor into those places we call poverty of spirit, into the shadows of doubt, bringing good news to those who struggle with faith. For others, their faith will address a literal kind of poverty, bringing material good news to those most in need—the poor, the hungry, the homeless. But faith doesn’t play one against the other!
Again, by faith, listening to Jesus’ Word, liberty to the captives means everything from the intangibles of hope, and of forgiveness, and of the covering shame, and bearing with one another…such intangible kinds of liberty all along the spectrum to the literal kinds of liberty brought to those who are literal captives…behind the bars of one prison or another. But faith doesn’t deem one act to be more valuable than another. Faith hears; faith acts. Freely.
And again, by such faith, a faith which hears Jesus “Today,” such faith recognizes the Lord’s favor, going out from Christ to us, today, touching and shaping our lives as well as the lives of those around, regardless of whether they or we are problem-free or not. In fact, faith sees that even our own problem-filled lives are arenas in which God’s favor is at work.
Today…with our own ears…we hear the voice of Jesus in this Word. And having heard His voice, with our own ears, in faith, today…His favor, His liberty, His good news, is ours today. And, therefore, we cannot but act…as His favor, His liberty, His good news goes out from us by such faith into all the world around us. Because today we have heard His Word…with our own ears.