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.’
Both today’s and yesterday’s readings feature quotations from the book of Isaiah. In this familiar episode in his ministry, Jesus declares that he is indeed the chief witness of God, prophesied by Isaiah long ago. We know through historians like Josephus, writing in the first century, that there were many who claimed to be or were proclaimed to be the promised Messiah. (It’s hard for some of us not to smile when we remember the classic line ‘He’s not the Messiah…’ from Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’.) Yet Jesus is the only one of these figures who has managed to change the world. He initiated this by both proclaiming the goodness of God and by his actions. The oppressed were lifted up, the disabled were enabled, those trapped in hopelessness were given help to start again. ‘A society where the poor and most marginalised are at the centre’ is one of the Joint Public Issues Team’s six hopes for society. We don’t only have the text on our website and literature, but seek to encourage real, radical change, just like Jesus, through campaigns such as ‘Reset the Debt’, where, in a letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, 500 church leaders bore witness that individuals and families driven into Covid-related debt could be given a fresh start. Christian witness is the marriage of words and action, a clear demonstration of the love of God. I remember as a teenager being thrust into housing estates each summer, armed with only some flashcards and a guitar with a rainbow strap, as we taught Bible stories and choruses and encouraged children to commit their lives to following Jesus. Yet how much weightier our words would be if we could replicate the heart of Jesus by challenging the status quo, putting an end to the necessity of food banks and fully embracing those who have been pushed to the fringes of society. How will you proclaim the Lord’s favour today?
Loving God, When Jesus came to dwell as one of us, there was still hunger, there was still pain, there was still death, yet Jesus experienced it with us. Help me this day to bind the wounds of the broken and bring good news to the poor through my words and actions, knowing you are there in the midst. Amen
Roo Stewart is Programme Support Officer for Church and Society within the URC’s Mission Team and a member of the Joint Public Issues Team.