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 favor.”
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.”
All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”
“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way. (New International Version)
Jesus was the hometown boy of Nazareth, the rising star who was putting the small village on the map. He walked into the synagogue on the Sabbath with the people all watching with pride, their chests puffed with delight over one of their own making it to the big time.
It just so happened that on that day the Old Testament reading was from the prophet Isaiah – a prophecy of grace and healing that fit the budding ministry of Jesus. Here was the hope of Israel. It was all bunnies and butterflies, until Jesus decided to say a few words to them all….
Jesus took the prophecy of Isaiah about proclaiming liberty to captives and the oppressed and then applied it, not to his fellow Jews who were present, but to, of all people, Gentiles!
Jesus just had to open his mouth and point out that in the days of Elijah, the prophet was sent to a Gentile woman. In addition, Jesus let everyone know the prophet Elisha cleansed a Gentile. The gathered synagogue worshipers understood exactly what Jesus was doing – claiming to be the ultimate prophet, sent for those people.
It was too much for the people gathered for worship. All hell broke loose as the “worshipers” became so angry and insolent that they drove Jesus out of town and tried to kill him. Jesus had that kind of effect throughout his earthly ministry by saying and doing the unexpected.
The people of Nazareth seemed to have always interpreted the message of Isaiah and the prophets as being for themselves, not others. Whenever any believer or church loses sight of a biblical message and re-interprets it as being for only us, then we end up like the Nazarenes of old who did not recognize Jesus for who he really is and what he really came to do.
Our faith is not merely individual; it is meant to impact the world. In the beginning the earth was created by God and it was good. Yet, it didn’t take long for things to go sideways. The fall of humanity into sin and disobedience brought death and decay to the world. Ever since, the human condition has been dominated by guilt, shame, indifference, violence, taking advantage of others, pride, and selfishness.
However, God did not leave the world to its own demise. The Lord began the process of reconciliation, culminating in the person and work of Jesus Christ. And now, Christians are a new society, the community of the redeemed, the church. As the people of God, we are called to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly.
Jesus came to save us from our predicament, and to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and freedom for those oppressed by others. The kingdom of God is to extend over every square inch of this earth, every nation, every race and ethnicity, every institution and organization, and every individual. It all belongs to God’s rule and reign in Christ.
Jesus has made us, his disciples, ambassadors of reconciliation. Ever since the fall of humanity, God is reclaiming and redeeming, even now, all of creation back to himself. The Lord is seeking to bring people back into the harmony that existed in the Garden of Eden. Although this will only be fully realized when Christ returns, we presently now have the responsibility to be gracious agents of God’s kingdom, restoring all areas of this world and all people to their rightful place, at peace with God.
There is every reason to hope because a new world began emerging at the resurrection of Jesus Christ from death. As Christians, we accept struggle and hardship in this life and endure all things because, even though disease, destruction, and death claim so many lives, the love of God in Christ will never change nor die.
Because of the risen and ascended Christ, who is the light for all people everywhere, Christ’s disciples are able to respond to the great mass of human suffering with compassion.
This is important since compassion might not be our initial reaction to human suffering. Like the villagers in Christ’s hometown of Nazareth, we can chafe at the thought of compassionately reaching out to the poor, the prisoner, the blind, and the oppressed. We might either resist ministry to the “other” because we believe they caused their own poverty and adverse situation, or because we simply don’t believe we are wired for ministry to them.
If you knew me before I was a Christian, you might not recognize me. I didn’t love anybody. I had no compassion for anyone. It wasn’t until I experienced the love and compassion of Jesus Christ that my life turned upside-down. I began responding to human need with a deep concern. I sought to connect with all kinds of people. I wanted to make a difference in the world.
Back then I was (and to some degree still am) something of an agitator. Maybe that’s one reason I am so drawn to the compassion of Christ. For compassion is actually a radical form of criticism, declaring that our pains and our hurts are to be taken seriously, that they are not to be accepted as natural but abnormal and unacceptable for the human condition. It’s not supposed to be this way!
The compassion of Jesus needs to be understood as a totally subversive action against the kingdom of darkness, a bold and daring affront against all that keeps people locked into systems of oppression and poverty.
The world needs to experience the Church everywhere as a place and a people of good news – expressed in both word and deed – in which they are hospitably invited into the very life of God and experience the fullness of peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. In other words, we are not only in the personal transformation business, but we are also in the business of transforming society so that the common good of all persons is upheld.
As the church proclaims and seeks to establish the kingdom of God, it comes to see that all human need is important – whether it is spiritual, physical, mental, or emotional. We “do justice” by helping others experience the reality of God’s love in Christ and compassionately meet their holistic needs. We “love mercy” by showing hospitality and inviting folks very different from ourselves into our lives. We “walk humbly” with our God by emulating the compassionate ministry of Jesus to all people.
What is your “compassion quotient?” That is, how much compassion do you have in your life right now?
What are some tangible ways we can work on raising our level of compassion and demonstrating compassionate action to those around us and in our city?
It is questions like these that enable us to sync our lives with the heart of Jesus, who still desires to bring good news to the world.
Almighty God, you sent your Son Jesus Christ to reconcile the world to yourself: We praise and bless you for sending your people in the power of the Spirit to preach the Gospel to all nations. We thank you that in all parts of the earth a community of love has been gathered together by many prayers and labors, and that your people share in your mission of restoring all people to unity with yourself and one another in Christ; for the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever. Amen.