16 Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been raised. On the Sabbath he went to the synagogue as he normally did and stood up to read. 17 The synagogue assistant gave him the scroll from the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
19 and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. [Isaiah 61:1-2, 58:6]
20 He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the synagogue assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed on him. 21 He began to explain to them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.”
22 Everyone was raving about Jesus, so impressed were they by the gracious words flowing from his lips. They said, “This is Joseph’s son, isn’t it?”
23 Then Jesus said to them, “Undoubtedly, you will quote this saying to me: ‘Doctor, heal yourself. Do here in your hometown what we’ve heard you did in Capernaum.’” 24 He said, “I assure you that no prophet is welcome in the prophet’s hometown. 25 And I can assure you that there were many widows in Israel during Elijah’s time, when it didn’t rain for three and a half years and there was a great food shortage in the land. 26 Yet Elijah was sent to none of them but only to a widow in the city of Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 There were also many persons with skin diseases in Israel during the time of the prophet Elisha, but none of them were cleansed. Instead, Naaman the Syrian was cleansed.”
28 When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was filled with anger.
Early in Christ’s public ministry, he boldly read from the prophet Isaiah’s words centuries earlier. He stunned his hometown synagogue, saying (in effect), “God’s promised anointed one [Messiah]? It’s me.” Then he upset and angered his hearers’ national pride by pointing out, in verses 25-28, times when God’s mercy had reached far beyond Israel’s national and ethnic borders. Jesus' knew his mission was to totally alter the world’s priorities with inclusive good news, healing and liberation.
Lord Jesus, “good news to the poor,” “release to the prisoners,” “recovery of sight to the blind,” “liberate the oppressed”— you chose those phrases to define your mission. Guide me to the ways you’ve equipped me to advance that mission. Amen.
* N. T. Wright, Luke for Everyone. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004, pp. 48-49.)
I’ve always wanted to be a person who’s involved in big things. That’s how I worked for an international missions organization, became a published poet, and became the editor-in-chief of an online satire publication before graduating from college. I don’t say this to brag on how great I’m doing, because, honestly, I reach for big things and fail just as often as I succeed—and that leads to some pretty spectacular failures from time to time. What I’m talking about today isn’t what I accomplished, though, but just what I want. I want big things and I seek after them, and I think I’ve always been like this.
So it’s no surprise that my prayer life involves a lot of asking God to be involved in big things. I’m always on the lookout for where I can make the most impact. Now, I realize that can be in the most unlikely places; but go back to when I was about 19 or 20 and really starting to seek out big things for the first time in my life and my outlook was a bit different. I was constantly asking God to do big things in my life, in my little corner of the world where I was most comfortable. And sometimes that happened. But I quickly found that my world wasn’t always the place where big things happened.
Looking at Jesus reading the passage in Isaiah in today’s passage, it’s pretty clear that God does some of His best work among the poor, the oppressed, and the needy. Jesus, quoting the prophet Isaiah, says his ministry is about preaching good news to the poor, working to free prisoners, helping those with physical disabilities, and fighting for social justice on behalf of the oppressed.
I fought this idea for a while, thinking that God clearly had huge things to do in my comfortable, privileged life while I stayed away from homeless shelters, prisons, mission trips, and other places I secretly dreaded going. But God goes where He’s needed, and there’s so much more of a need among the oppressed than there is among people who look like me.
I learned (and I’m still learning) that, if you want to be a part of God’s big things, it’s not enough to ask for them in your world—you have to go to the places in the world where God is already doing big things, and those places are usually significantly less comfortable than your home or favorite coffee shop. That’s not to say that God can’t do big things in any of our lives, but it is to say that we need to think bigger than our own little worlds when it comes to being a part of God’s work. That might mean finally looking into those overseas mission trips or getting involved in a prison ministry locally, but there are places we often want to avoid where God does some of His best work.
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