Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me 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.’
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’
Today’s reading offers us Luke’s account of the beginning of Jesus’ adult ministry. Following his baptism by John and his forty days of temptation in the wilderness Jesus returns to Galilee. Despite these three events being reported as though they flow smoothly from one to the other, we are left with a sense that Luke is just reporting the highlights. Before Jesus reaches his home town we are told that a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. There must have been some excitement in the air as this local ‘celebrity’ returned to his home. For whatever reason, Jesus could not return without being noticed. Thus, when he finally arrived in Nazareth, everyone must have been delighted to see him in the synagogue.
What happened as Jesus arrived to pray and worship was not unusual. Such an honoured visitor would have been asked to read from scripture, and to comment on the words he had read. What was unusual, however, was what happened next. Jesus chose a specific passage from the prophecy of Isaiah (the opening of Isaiah 61). This passage speaks of the promised Messiah, the Anointed One of God, the Saviour of Israel. This passage would have been well known, you can almost see the gathered worshippers mouthing the words as Jesus read. But … never before would that congregation of faithful Jews have heard what Jesus said next: Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
It is interesting that today’s reading stops where it does, with all speaking well of him, and being amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. In just a few more verses all of that amazement will turn to anger and resentment. The phrase: Is not this Joseph’s son will turn from words of admiration to words of contempt and murderous rage. Once again, as throughout the Old Testament, the words of the prophet will be turned into words of indictment. And, in a foretaste of what is to come, the adoring crowd will become the vengeful mob.
I wonder you have ever met a celebrity, someone with a larger-than-life reputation? If you have, can you remember your expectations before the encounter, and your feelings afterwards. Whether you are anticipating a meeting with a famous actor, musician, politician, or whatever, your expectations will be coloured by what others have said of them, while your feelings after meeting him or her are going to depend upon how well they kept up the act while you were in their presence. Feelings of satisfaction or disappointment will pivot around your ‘celebrity’s’ gift of pretence.
In today’s reading the ‘celebrity’ is Jesus. In Jesus there is no pretence, just an honest encounter with God. Our reaction to meeting Jesus has nothing to do with his ability at pretence, rather it depends on our willingness to be confronted by God’s truth. To be a follower of Jesus means being ready to drop our pretence and to allow Christ’s light to shine in and through us. Are we strong enough for that encounter?