Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
If there’s one thing I have learnt from teaching it’s that the teenager’s mind is unpredictable.
“Sir, Is Jesus Santa Clause!”
“Sir, Sir. Right. Jesus right. Was he real?”
Anyway Sir, Jesus didn't die. He moved to France and started a family”
Where'd you get that idea from?
"That book in the Bible. You know. The Da Vinci Code. Honestly Sir, you're supposed to know these things.”
Will the real Jesus please stand up!
I’d like us to reflect for a moment on this Jesus. Here is a man who has left his mark on history, which is fairly surprising given that he lived a long time ago in a remote corner of the middle of nowhere; came from a poor family with no political or social clout; didn’t travel extensively; never wrote down his thoughts and ideas and died a dreadful death. In the normal course of events he ought really to have been lost to history. Yet this man became one of the most revered and talked about people who ever walked the human stage and I’m entirely confident that those three or four years of his public ministry have had a profound impact on the lives of each of us here. The problem is that there is not much material from Jesus’ own time and mountains of conflicting material from every generation since - as some of my pupils noticed. So which Jesus are we talking about? Gentle Jesus meek and mild, as the hymn would have us believe? (Small children and fluffy bunnies?) Remote, mystical Jesus championed by an army of conspiracy writers in books like The Da Vinci Code? Radical-revolutionary Jesus so beloved by the downtrodden and exploited? Nerdy-precocious Jesus sitting at the feet of the rabbis in the temple in his youth, soaking up their wisdom? The Jesus of the American televangelists (“put your hands up to the screen and Jesus will bless you”)?
There is a saying doing the rounds on the INTERNET that notes, “You can be sure you have created Jesus in your own image when he hates all the same people you do.” which is a real challenge because we are all susceptible to championing the version of Jesus that most suits us – regardless of the truth. Jesus: Remote? Or close? Jesus: someone who challenges our assumptions? Or affirms them? Matey Jesus or authoritarian Jesus? Loving Jesus or judgemental Jesus?
Are we are still seeing Jesus as a “good man”? A prophet perhaps? Or a preacher? A miracle worker? A religious hothead cut down before his time? A political activist with a bad sense of timing?
Or something more?
Will the real Jesus please stand up!
Well, in today’s Gospel passage we have a very clear answer in Jesus’ own words:
When he returned to Galilee, his home region there was much excitement. We read that word about him had spread and there was a real buzz of expectation and I guess that those conversations were based very much on the same sorts of ideas we’ve just been looking at. Who is this man?
So, we find him in the synagogue and he is asked to read from the scripture, which was something of an honour and already says something about how he was viewed – a rabbi, a religious teacher; someone with authority and wisdom – they didn’t just ask anyone to preach. The passage for that day was a section from the Prophet Isaiah and it talked about God’s chosen one, the Messiah, long awaited by the Jewish people, and this passage includes a list of the things the Messiah, when he came, would do: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, 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.
Now, how do we today make sense of these words? Because it strikes me that unless we recognise that they have meaning and relevance for us, we are in danger of seeing these words as just an interesting piece of religious writing – or perhaps, for some people, not that interesting. We can listen and nod, receive our communion, sing a hymn and return to our Sunday routine completely untouched and unchanged.
We need to remember that whoever Jesus’ audience was at the time, we are also his audience today. Every time we hear the words of Jesus spoken in the Gospels, we should see ourselves as being in that audience too: Jesus is speaking directly to us today as he did to the people in that synagogue all those years ago.
And what did he say? Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
If we had been there then, in that synagogue, listening to Jesus, all those years ago, one thing is certain - there would have been a stunned silence: the atmosphere would have been electric. Jesus had just said that the writing of Isaiah that he had just read was about him. He was telling them, as he is telling us today, that he is God’s Chosen One, the promised Messiah.
There is another event in the life of Jesus, later on in this Gospel, which is similar in its importance: Jesus asks Peter a direct question, But you, who do you say that I am? And Peter’s response? You are the Messiah. The Messiah, The Christ, God’s Chosen One.
So twice we have the words of Jesus announcing to those who hear, to those who listen, that he is not just a preacher, a miracle worker, a religious hothead or political revolutionary. No. He is, indeed, God’s Chosen one. And that requires a response from all who hear those words - whether they were there in that synagogue then or are here in this chapel today. Will the real Jesus please stand up? He just did!
So, nodding and taking our communion, singing a hymn but returning to our Sunday routine unchanged is no longer enough. In John’s Gospel Peter says to Jesus, But to whom else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
That’s our challenge for today gentlemen – and not just for today, but for our entire lives. To whom else shall we go indeed?