January 27, 2013
Most of us heard or heard about President Obama’s inaugural speech this week. The crux of the comments about that speech it that it revealed who Obama really is. The disagreement is whether people like that Obama or not. It can be argued whether this was really some liberal manifesto or not, but it is being defined that way.
This passage we read from Luke today is kind of Jesus’ inaugural address. It sets out his platform for his time in office (so to speak). Most of the commentators head this section of Luke with something like Jesus’ Inaugural Sermon. Actually it’s hard to imagine this was his first sermon, ever. It’s just the first one we read about in Luke.
He’s at the synagogue in his home town. He’s asked to read the scripture. Not the scripture someone else had picked out, like Mary and I do, and then ask folk to read it. The custom was that the reader got to pick whatever scripture he (and it was he in those days) wanted to read. And Jesus picked this passage from Isaiah. Now here’ a liberal agenda for you.
Did the word poor come up in Obama’s speech the other day? I don’t remember him mentioning poor people. But Jesus sure did. “God has sent me to preach good news to the poor.” Imagine for a moment what good news to the poor might sound like. [Ask people what that good news might sound like. What are some of the headlines?] God does not want you to be hungry. Just because you are poor doesn’t mean you are outside the circle of God’s love and concern. God wants a movement that makes things better for you and your kids.
In that inaugural address Jesus also said that God had sent him to “announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…” If you look at the rest of Luke’s story you realize that Jesus was serious about all of that, and on all kinds of levels. He actually did restore sight to people who were physically blind. But he also gave sight to the spiritually blind. He went around telling whoever would listen that God did not want folk locked up in any kind of prison, whether a prison of someone else’s or their own making. That’s still a message worth paying attention to.
And there was more. Jesus’s inaugural address got a whole lot better or worse depending on whether you voted for the guy or not. It wasn’t enough for Jesus to read a passage about the oppressed being set free. Jesus really goes off the charts when he continues reading that passage from Isaiah that talks about the favorable year of the Lord.
The favorable year of the Lord is a reference to the year of Jubilee, which you read about back in the book of Leviticus, of all places. The year of Jubilee, the favorable year of the Lord, is when all debts were canceled, and land that has been sold was returned to the families that originally owned it. Slaves were to be set free. Prisoners released. It’s a conservative’s nightmare. I mean they like to talk about liberty all the time, but this is not the kind fo freedom they have in mind. And there are quite a few folk in the liberal establishment who would have thought Obama was out of his mind if he had suggested anything close to something like this in his inaugural address.
Where did Jesus get all this stuff? Up until this part of the Luke’s story we don’t hear much from Jesus. We have stories about his birth, his baptism, the temptation in the wilderness where he does offer words of challenge to the tempter. But not much comes out of his mouth up to this point. Where in Luke’s story have we already heard something so over the top, offering such a radical view of what God wants for this world? From his mother when she goes to tell Elizabeth about the baby.
“My soul does magnify the Lord…God has shown strength with the power of God’s arm; and has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty….”
Maybe the reason Jesus turned to the Isaiah passage that morning was because his mother read it to him, a lot of times. She surely was among the poor who were listening for good news. From that song she sang to Elizabeth you sure have to imagine that she was familiar the prophets. Lots of Momma’s have read Bible passages and stories to their kids. But it seems that Mary picked the ones that had a bit of a punch to them.
We read from Psalm 19 at the beginning of the service. Imagine how it might sound to a woman like Mary. “The law of the Lord is perfect reviving the soul. The decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart.” Again, listen to these words as good news to the poor and what they might hear in them. I think they hear something different than we often do. What if the Lord’s statutes and decrees and laws aren’t simply a bunch of rules and regulations, but they are about people being set free, about good news being preached to the poor? Jesus may well have gotten his material for his inaugural address at the feet of his mother.
It turns out that in Jesus’ inaugural message, like with President Obama’s, people not only made a big deal out of what he did say, but what he didn’t say. Commentators and legislators have been asking all week why didn’t the President mention this. Or they talk about what was, in their opinion, glaringly missing from his speech. There were some pretty strong feelings about what the President didn’t say.
The feelings weren’t as strong about the President, though, as they were for Jesus. By time Jesus got done, he was no longer the hometown boy who decided he was a preacher. If he is who the Spirit of the Lord was upon, they didn’t want to have anything to do with that. They were ready to throw him over the cliff. And not just because of what he said. There was something most of them were expecting to hear that he didn’t say.
I’m preaching again next week, so we will have to wait for what wasn’t in his inaugural address then. I mean the President’s inaugural speech is still being talked about, so I figure we can give Jesus another week. Like a Presidential inaugural address, Jesus set out some of his agenda that day, gave us lots to think about. And to this day some people like it, others hate it. But worst of all, lots of people, even in the church, ignore it. We are not going to let that happen.