The Beginning of the Ecclesiastical (Church) Year
And Jesus came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and He went to the synagogue, as His custom was, on the Sabbath day. And He stood up to read; and there was given to Him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” And He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of Him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. Luke 4: 16-22
Have you ever wondered what it was like to be present when Jesus was teaching or performing a miracle? Many movies that have been made about the life of Christ give us insight into what the scene might have looked like when Lazarus came out of the tomb or when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. There have even been theatrical ways to show a blind man recovering his sight or a lame man walking again.
I’ve always wondered what it was like to have been in the synagogue the day that this Gospel account happened. Nazareth was Jesus’ hometown. He had been brought up there. He was presumably known in the synagogue, especially since the Gospel account tells us that it was His custom to be in the synagogue on the Sabbath. We don’t know whether He was told to read on this particular day, or if He volunteered or if He was a regular “reader” of Scripture on the Sabbath, the same way our church now has “readers.” We know that He was given to read from the book of Isaiah, but we do not know whether He was told read the passage that He read or whether He chose it on His own. It is possible that the book opened randomly (Providentially) to the verses He read.
In any case, He read from the book of Isaiah, the passage that described the “Messianic signs.” A little bit of background on this—the Old Testament is filled with prophecies about the coming of a Messiah, a deliverer for the people of Israel. There are not only prophecies about what the promised Messiah would do, but there are several passages that gave the people “signs” by which to know that the Messiah had indeed come.
The Messiah would do things that no one had ever done, like restore sight to the blind, to heal the lame, to allow those who were dumb to speak, and to raise people from the dead. Jesus did not only do one of the “signs.” He did all of them. This should have left no doubt that all of these prophecies being fulfilled in the person of Jesus, all being fulfilled in one man, should have been irrefutable proof (no way could this all be coincidence) that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah, the Christ.
When Jesus came to the synagogue on that day, He was thirty years old. I’ve always wondered what tone of voice He used when reading. Did it sound humble and meek? Did it sound authoritative? Jesus read: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Matthew 4:18-19) We then read that Jesus closed the book and sat down. Whatever tone of voice He used had gathered the attention of those present. He must have read that passage in a way that no one else ever had. And then with everyone looking at Him, He said to them “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (4:21)
It is interesting to note that the last verse of the passage says that Jesus got a positive response, that people spoke well of Him. However, if we continue reading in Luke chapter four, only a few verses later the same people are rejecting Him. It’s as if to say once they had time to sit down and process what He said, that they actually felt threatened.
While we don’t know if Jesus’ tone of voice was humble or authoritative, we do know that what He said was pretty bold. There are of course lots of people who speak boldly and then don’t back it up. Jesus spoke boldly and then got to work. Jesus calls on us to be bold, not arrogant, but bold in our faith. But we’ve got to back up what we say we believe with work, with action. We can’t be Christians in word only, but in deed. In fact, our deeds say even more than our words. It’s okay to be “bold” in our Christianity. It is a bold move to tell a coach your kid will go to church on Sunday and miss a game, or to ask your boss for Good Friday off. It’s bold to suggest to someone who is hurting can you pray together. I’m not suggesting anyone stand on a street corner with a bullhorn reading the Bible—I actually think that makes Christians look like odd-balls. But there are plenty of opportunities to be bold without being rude or arrogant or appearing elitist or odd. But boldness involves more work than words. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus offered some pretty bold words, and then He want to work backing them up. As we begin a New Church Year, there is indeed a lot of work to do.
Your kingdom, O Christ God, is a kingdom of all the ages, and Your dominion is from generation to generation. You made all things in wisdom, fixing both times and seasons. Therefore we thank You for all and in all, and we shout to You: Bless the crown of the year with Your goodness, and grant that without condemnation we may call out to You, “Glory to You, O Lord!” (From the Praises of Matins, Feast of the Indiction, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Let’s go to work!
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.