1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
O God, we give you thanks because, in the carnation of the Word, a new light has dawned upon the world, that all the nations and peoples may be brought out of darkness to see the radiance of your glory.
We are still making our way through this season of Epiphany. The readings over these Sundays have shown us the Epiphany experiences of various people: the Wise Men, Eli & Samuel, Mary, Joseph and young Jesus, grown-up Jesus and John the Baptist, Mary and the disciples at the wedding at Cana and now Jesus speaking publicly in the synagogue of Nazareth.
What does Epiphany mean? In the everyday it means to have ‘a moment of great or sudden revelation or realisation.’ Those moments when something new blows through your mind; you see the world, people, a situation in a totally new way. Epiphany moments can cause a fundamental change in one’s life. The Epiphany stories of the people we meet in our Bible readings are the stories of their revelations and realisations of God the Father and Jesus the Son.
In our Gospel reading for today the whole synagogue in Nazareth has something of an epiphany when Jesus stands up to read the scroll from what we know as Isaiah 61. It could have been a normal sabbath day, worship as usual in the Nazareth synagogue. What is the big deal?
For the sake of an example, let’s say that the Archbishop of Canterbury sent a letter to every church in the land saying we had to feast and celebrate right now because today is a day holy to the Lord. If he then insisted that 2022 is the ‘year of the Lord’s favour,’ what would you say?
‘Are you kidding me Justin!? Today? Right now?’ Looking around at the state of the world, we would not be alone in our scepticism. Covid remains, the NHS is exhausted, national and local economies are in difficulty, the price of heating is rising, threats of wars, natural disasters, violence, climate change, rising epidemics in mental health. Not many would call our current moment holy or favoured by God.
Yet this morning we hear a call to now in both 1 Corinthians and Luke. The first letter of Corinthians is Paul responding to the letters that have been sent to him from members of the Corinthian community. Paul responds to things like: a church divided over its leaders, what it is to be an apostle, how to deal with incest, lawsuits among believers, sexual immorality, married life, food sacrificed to idols, how to conduct communion, spiritual gifts, love, worship, resurrection of the dead.
Paul is making an impassioned plea for them to attempt to think in a completely new way. Instead of always thinking about themselves and their individual needs and rights, instead of always battling to be the most important and gifted person in any gathering, the Corinthians have to learn to think of themselves as one entity, one body, whose health and life depends on cooperation and connection.
Paul is reminding us that we are the body of Christ and we have been called to take up our roles. We may have different gifts and calling but all are as important as the other. All are needed just as all parts of the body are needed. We are part of the one Spirit, one baptism and we all have gifts to share; things to strive for.
Luke has Jesus returning to Nazareth after being away; we don’t know how long he was away for, maybe months or even years. Jesus is, however, returning differently to when He left. He comes back after being baptised, tempted in the wilderness and filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus has returned home with power that is about to be displayed in the synagogue as he is handed the scroll that not coincidentally was Isaiah, the book containing more prophecy about him than any other.
If you replace me in verses 18-19 with Jesus, it is difficult to see how anyone else in all of history fills this position. It has finally been filled by the one written about centuries before when he returns home!
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me (Jesus),
Because he has anointed me (Jesus)
To bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me (Jesus) to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour
This is Jesus’ chosen description of his mission. It isn’t about teaching us a better spirituality but about doing God’s justice and creating God’s community. When Jesus said, ‘today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’ the meaning of ‘fulfilled’ here is ‘to fill a vessel or hollow place’. How many of us know what it is to have that hollow place? He wants to fill it now – not tomorrow or next year or when we feel better or life is back to normal. Jesus means now.
What else has He come to do?
Preach the good news to the poor: Jesus didn’t mean the financially poor. The poor being referred to here those in ‘utter helplessness, complete destitution, afflicted, distressed.’ This has wider implications than finances alone. God created us to need something or someone else and sooner or later any healthy individual will realise that autonomy doesn’t cut it. However, if we subsist only on what others can give us, we won’t be fulfilled. Jesus does not want us to subsist – we were meant to thrive. Until we let Him fill our cups daily, we will only subsist.
To heal the broken-hearted: Broken-hearted here means ‘to break, strike against something, to break the strength or power of someone’. The Hebrew translation of heal ‘to mend by stitching, repair thoroughly, make whole’. Total breakage needs total healing. One stitch follows another, it takes time and can be painful! Healing can be painful.
To proclaim freedom for the captives: Notice that Jesus proclaims freedom, he didn’t impose it. It remains an offer.
Recovery of sight for the blind: We know that Jesus physically healed the sight of many blind people, but this is a different kind of blindness, a more serious kind of blindness. The word here means ‘to envelop with smoke, be unable to see clearly.’ This is about clouded vision, not being able to see the light of gospel or the glory of God. Jesus came to clear our vision so we can see him clearly.
To release the oppressed: to be oppressed is to be treated harshly or unfairly by someone in authority. This release is about breaking the chains of unhealthy attachment.
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour: That year, those gathering in that Nazareth synagogue were staring in the face of the Lord’s favour – His blessed gift of grace, Jesus. Year here means ‘any definite time’ – not a calendar year.
There is an urgency in both of these passages, not so much pressure, but the invitation that what God is offering is available now. We can wait until things get better, struggle on under our own steam or we can go to him now.
Maybe this is our epiphany moment this morning: We don’t have to wait until things get better, Covid goes away, the sun shines. Jesus laid out that day in the Nazareth synagogue of his childhood what He came to do in fulfilling scripture. He came with the Spirit of the Lord upon him to bring the good news to the poor in spirit, proclaim release to the prisoners who want it, recovery of sight to those who had lost vision of God, freedom for the oppressed and to usher in the time of the Lord’s favour – available to all until He comes again. This day is holy to the Lord. Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. May it be so.