In today’s Gospel we see Jesus going into synagogues, reading from the Scriptures, teaching and preaching. These actions are familiar to us in our worship. We recognise what is going on, because there is a fundamental continuity between what took place in a synagogue two thousand years ago, and what takes place in a church today. We read the same holy book, sing the same psalms, and pray to the same God. Jesus took part in these activities and it is good to be reminded that our religious practice is grounded in an unbroken tradition stretching back thousands of years: both ancient and ever new.
Luke writes that Jesus returns ‘in the power of the Spirit’ (Lk 4:14). Following His Baptism and Temptation in the Desert, we now see the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry in Galilee. Jesus is full of the Holy Spirit, and teaches that the Kingdom of God is a reality. His message is that people need to repent, to turn away from their wrongdoing, and to trust God to be at work in their lives. Jesus bases His teaching on the prophecies found in the Hebrew Scriptures, and those who hear respond positively:
‘And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.’ (Lk 4:15)
When Jesus comes to the town where He grew up, He goes to the synagogue to read on the Sabbath. There Jesus is given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and He reads:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Lk 4:18-19)
This prophecy is taken from the 61st Chapter of Isaiah. It expresses Israel’s hope for a Messianic future: a hope of healing, freedom, and restoration. This is similar to the idea of the Jubilee, when every fifty years all debts were cancelled, all slaves freed, and all land returned to its original owners. Some of you may remember the Campaign Jubilee 2000, which sought to write off Third-world debt, as a modern reworking of this ancient biblical idea. Jesus is proclaiming the Kingdom of God as a reality, here and now. This is what fullness of life and salvation look like when we live them. It is an attractive vision, and can be a reality, if we co-operate with God to live it out in our own lives. Jesus then turns to the people in the synagogue and says:
“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Lk 4:21)
This is quite a claim to make. If the Scripture has been fulfilled then this means that Jesus is the Messiah, plain and simple. What the prophets point to in the future has now become a reality in the person of Jesus Christ. The Word made flesh is the fulfilment of the Word of God: Jesus fulfils the Scriptures. This is what we believe as Christians, and is why we read the Old Testament. The New is prefigured in the Old. The Scriptures point to Christ, and they find their fulfilment and true meaning in Him. What Israel has hoped and longed for has arrived in the figure of Jesus. Thus, we can say that the Kingdom of God is not something abstract, but rather someone concrete. It is a person, Jesus of Nazareth. The reconciliation of God and humanity happens in and through Jesus. This is a relationship which can grow and develop in each and every one of us. Every day we pray for the coming of God’s Kingdom: ‘deled dy deyrnas, Thy Kingdom come’ in the Lord’s Prayer. To make this happen, we have a part to play. We are called to co-operate with God in making the Kingdom more of a reality in the world. This is what the Church is, not a building, but a group of people in a relationship with each other, and primarily with the Living God. As Christians, we proclaim the same truth, and offer the same relationship, healing, and forgiveness. For two thousand years we have announced the same message, and will continue until the Lord comes again.
This a cause for celebration, one envisaged in Nehemiah, our first reading:
‘Go on your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’ (Nehemiah 8:10)
The Kingdom of God is a cause for celebration. It is what we look forward to in Heaven and it is what we do in Church. We meet to celebrate who Christ is and what Christ does, and to encourage people to know Him, love Him, and believe in Him. Our celebration this morning is both the Feast of the Kingdom, and also a foretaste of heavenly glory.
In today’s Gospel, we hear the announcement of the Kingdom of God, a new way of living, which can transform us, and our world, for the better. The Kingdom of God is to be a place where all are cared for, and where our needs are met. The good news is also for those who are spiritually poor. As Jesus will say in the Sermon on the Mount: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God’ (Lk 6:20). The good news of the Gospel is for those who know their need of God, who are aware of their spiritual poverty. That means all of us. We all need God’s love in our hearts, and our lives, so that we can be transformed.
As Nehemiah says, the joy of the Lord is our strength. May we be strengthened by our faith and share the Good News of the Kingdom with others, so that they may come to know and give praise to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever. Amen.