Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.
And before you were born, I consecrated you.
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.
You shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid.
These words from our Old Testament reading this morning were a promise to Jeremiah, but when we read them alongside our Gospel reading, I think they could just as easily be written for Jesus. And even for us too.
Have you ever wondered about the conversation God might’ve had with the Trinity before God the son was conceived in Mary’s womb? What did the divine parent say to Jesus – did Jesus receive a mission, was the plan shared, was there a specific plan, and when he was born as a human baby did he remember it, or did it come back to him as he grew. Or did he only know he was the son of God when he heard it proclaimed at his baptism? Was it as much of a surprise to him as it was to the others, gathered on the riverbank that day? The truth is, we don’t know but, by the time we get to this scene in the synagogue, Jesus certainly does know.
The spirit is upon ME, Jesus says.
And he knows exactly what his purpose is.
The spirit is upon ME, to preach good news to the poor, bring sight to the blind, win release for captives, smash oppression and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
Whenever Jesus became aware of his call, whenever he figured out what his life’s purpose was, he knew it by the time he stood up to read those scrolls that day, in his hometown.
And all spoke well of him and were amazed at the words that came from his mouth.
The synagogue was packed; word had got out that this itinerant preacher was coming home; he’d been doing amazing things all over the place and now it’s our turn to see him perform miracles and do great things for us. And he stands up and speaks with such boldness, such prophetic truth and everyone was amazed.
Isn’t this guy Joseph’s son?
Didn’t our children go to lessons together?
Aren’t his family sat right over there?
All were amazed at him.
So, what changed? How come, just 6 verses later, all in the synagogue were filled with rage? They got up, drove him out of the town and led him to the brow of the cliff so they might hurl him off. Why was there such a turnaround and such a strong, murderous reaction to what he was saying? They had known Jesus as a child. But had they really known him? Because here he is telling them he is a prophet, here he is suggesting – pretty boldly – that he’s the messiah. Isn’t that what they want? Isn’t that who they have been waiting for?
Jesus comes to the synagogue with this great message – a message that is good news for the poor, sight for the blind, freedom for those in captivity, liberation for those who are oppressed – and everyone loves it – and then Jesus says, no prophet is accepted in his hometown. Basically, there’s nothing I can do for you here. Ouch.
Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. But it is for the poor and the blind and the incarcerated and the oppressed. And they don’t like that because they want it to be for them. They want the goodness all for themselves. And isn’t that a condition of the human heart. As it was for them, how often is that true for us too?
Things switched dramatically in the temple that day. From amazement to vicious death threats. A total 180. And it seems that the crime Jesus committed, over and over, the one that sentenced him to death – first here in the synagogue and later at the cross is summed up in one word: TRUTH.
Jesus told the truth and people didn’t like it. Speaking the truth won’t win you friends, and it will threaten to get you killed. And it is the right thing to do. The only thing to do.
Jesus’ message of good news is really good, but it also means raises some uncomfortable truths. Jesus’ message causes us to examine ourselves and acknowledge we aren’t the ones who are poor, blind, incarcerated and oppressed. Jesus’ message invites us to join the ranks of those who willingly give away some of our own privilege in order that others may thrive and grow and live. It means we need to hold onto those Old Testament promises made to Jeremiah and Jesus, and us – that we were known by God before our very conception, that we are consecrated and called for a holy purpose, that we have a job to do, that we must speak out truth and love, just as we are commanded, and without fear because God is with us.
Jesus’ listeners in first century Palestine, in his hometown, only heard the deeply unsettling truth that God favours the poor and the oppressed. And it made them murderous. But the bottom line is that this is the truth. And we are not poor. But God shares God’s work with us. And we have the enormous and profound privilege of being able to become God’s hands and feet and mouthpiece in this generation. We can choose to be amazed by that invitation and take it. Or we can put ourselves first and turn it down. We can take truth and live with it, or we can try to kill it.
Later this morning we are going to pray God’s blessing upon our young people as they return to school, to a new school year, to a new school for some of them. I am going to pray that they know they were called and set apart before they were even conceived, for works of greatness, and that they might fulfil them, even today, even as children, even in their hometown. I’m going to pray that they will speak boldly, caring first for the poor and the oppressed. As you pray for them too, may you also know that you were born for works of greatness and that your greatest work is to care first and foremost for the poor and oppressed, following after the example of Jesus, and may this truth be the truth that sets you free. Amen.