I remember the day well. It was one of the first times when the Scriptures truly came alive to me. You know, where something just goes off in your head like a light bulb and you say…Ah Ha! I was in Galilee on a visit to the Holy Lands with a group from college. We visited ruin after ruin and I had terribly confused Bethhoglah and Betharabag, Mizpeh and Mozah. And in Galilee, I couldn’t really tell one side of the Sea of Galilea from the other, and besides, the Sea of Galilee is more like a lake. But, it was there in that spot, that something stood out. The walls of this rectangular ruin had crumbled down to stand about knee high. On a clear day like so many we have here in Santa Fe, we were walking on stones and gravel out in the open air, the breeze coming off the Lake. The wall closest to the shore of the Lake was taller than the rest. And attached to it, almost as if it were hanging in mid-air was a flat slab of a stone, at an appropriate height for sitting. This stone was called the Moses seat. The place next to which the reader of the scrolls would stand to read the scripture, and then he would sit on the Moses seat to preach. I was standing in an ancient synagogue where a small community of God fearing Galilean Jews would gather Sabbath after Sabbath to pray, hear the words of the law of God read and listen to comments on God’s law, years ago. Can you see it? A group—maybe about this size—ready to encounter God through the ancient written Scriptures. And on one particular day, their lives would be changed forever.
There was one who grew up among them named Jesus, the Son of Mary and Joseph the carpenter; he had been selected to read from the scroll of course. He’d been away for a while, some months really, traveling about the region. He’d become quite a preacher. And now he was back, let’s let him read today’s lesson and interpret it’s meaning; let’s hear what he has to say. So among relatives and friends, in the synagogue Jesus is at home. It was time. As he moved toward the Moses seat, Jesus was handed the scroll by the synagogue helper, it was the scroll of the famed prophet during Israelite exile named Isaiah. With the scroll in hand, he stood next to the Moses seat, and Jesus 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;
To proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind;
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
Rolling up the scroll, Jesus gave it back to the synagogue helper and sat on the Moses seat. All eyes were on him, fixed like those of hawks waiting to hear what he had to say. So he began to speak: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” These words are the first public words Jesus speaks as an adult, and that is Jesus’ entire sermon. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled.” “Hoy se ha cumplido la Escritura.” If only all sermons could be that short! And the first word he speaks, “Today.” “Hoy.”
Hoy Que? What has happened today? The message he reads from the scroll is of God’s powerful desire for liberation in the form of debt forgiveness, release of wrongful imprisonments, adequate health care, freedom from oppression, and land reform.1 And says “Today.” Is this the mission for the one anointed by the spirit of the Lord?
This message is dangerous. Surely it is not to be taken literally. Surely we can find a way to explain away it’s meaning or somehow lift it up into the clouds, giving it some kind of spiritual meaning. Promises of healing, restoration, renewal, and justice, can these things really be real. Can liberation and freedom be part of our reality?
I know a world too full of injustice: a world full of impoverished people who are starving to death and know no good news; of people who are in prison because of their skin color and even killed from false accusations; a world in which those blinded by materialism, self preservation, or whatever else my blind never gain their sight; the reality of the oppressed is chains; and those in power take away from those who are weak, and would never consider giving it back.
But what if the messiah says, “Today” “Hoy” “The kingdom of God starts now.” Yes, Jesus, We see the injustices and generally we are for reform, renewal, and restoration. But, then what Jesus? Just how much of a challenge to the status quo do you intend to make? Just how much of a challenge to the status quo does you intend for us to make? Will this mean debt forgiveness (forgive us our debts…), land reform, and a challenge to unjust imprisonments (fines, and arrests)? Will this mean preaching good news to those who so much need to hear something good? What will those in power do to someone who actually proclaims this radical message? What will become of our own vested interests if we we participate in the kingdom of God Jesus proclaims?
Week after week dozens of men stand idle at the park, these days freezing, but they are ready to work if only someone would come by to hire. They’ll give good labor, and they hope to have some food to put on their table and maybe some to send to their families. “Oh, but they do not have proper documentation,” say the powers. But they have to fill out W-2s and prove they are eligible to work in this country. Besides, they shouldn’t be here anyway. Jesus creates another reality because he says “HOY,” Today, I preach the gospel to the poor, and liberty to the oppressed.
Such a liberating message was heard by my friend, Tere Izquierdo, who I met while I lived in Mexico. Her life was transformed when the Annointed one, pronounced, “Hoy.” This single mother of two boys, this cancer survivor, this divorcee had been told what her place was in society. She overcomes any obstacles in her personal path toward Christian freedom because she has heard the good news. She is a professor of biology at a top university in Mexico city, she is working on a cure for AIDS, and instead of going to church on Sundays, as most of her Christian friends would tell her she ought to do, she visits women in prison, and proclaims the good news to those poor, and preaches release to those captives.
God’s dominion, which Jesus brings, is a mission, a program, a campaign which is directed first to those with the greatest need, the sinners and outcasts, the sick and the poor.”2
And you and I, we have heard the reading of the law from the scroll. Do not mourn or weep, for this is God’s mission for the world. This day is holy unto the Lord your God, because we have heard and are invited to participate. We are filled with joy as there is hope for the world.
That is if we hear and accept. For me, it was when that light bulb went of years ago by the Sea of Galilee, standing among those ruins when I began to understand the radical nature of the message of Christ. This Christ whom I professed to know and to follow spoke to my heart that day. And invited me to understand that the justice of his kingdom is filled with consequences for this world and for my role in it. Jesus’ mission and the content of his call to discipleship are filled with God’s passion for the outcast the poor, the oppressed, and the lost.”3
Could I accept that mission? Years have gone by and now I am here before the congregation that has called be to be its Minister, the one who is to teach and preach messages about the one who simply said, “Hoy.” It dawned on me, and others, that after the congregational meeting back on January 7, when the church voted yes to call me to this office, that when I came back in the room, I never said the words, “I accept.” Obviously, by Trasie and me being here today, we have both very willingly decided to move here and, yes, I accept the call wholeheartedly. But the challenge put before me by Jesus, I find more difficult to accept. While at the same time I am overwhelmed by a desire to say YES.
But it is not only me, but each of us who are invited to participate in this type of divine justice for the world. Today, we who are Christ’s hands and Christ’s feet, for we make up the body of Christ, Somos el cuerpo de Cristo, today we can participate in God’s mission.
Today, part of this body of Christ has been nominated to take on significant leadership roles of great responsibility. Those nominated have accepted this responsibility as they seek to participate in God’s mission through this church.
And Today, Hoy, we are invited to this table, where Christ is the host. Christ calls all of us who have never counted ourselves worthy of God’s grace, benefits, or justice and are simply amazed and delighted. At this table we can come as we are, but can be transformed as we are nourished and discover that Christ sends us into the world to proclaim a message that it really gives dignity to the poor, liberates the oppressed and opens up the eyes of those who do not understand.”4 And this happens, Hoy. Today.
1 Tiede, David L. “Proclaiming the Righteous Reign of Jesus: Luke 4 and the Justice of God” Word & World I Vol. VII, Number 1. p 89
2 Tiede 85.
3 Tiede 86
4 Matthey, Jacques “Luke 4:16-30—The Spirit’s Mission Manifesto—Jesus’ Hermeneutics—and Luke’s editorial” International Review of Mission Volume LXXXIX, N. 352, Jan 2000. p 4