Mark begins his account of the public life of Jesus with a call to repentance because the kingdom is imminent. Luke’s keynote address is an invitation to the lowly to the Kingdom of the Spirit. It is of a piece with Luke’s arrangement of the Gospel, which is preached to the meek and humble of heart.
In today’s reading, Jesus is present in Nazareth and makes his appearance in the synagogue, where he is invited to preach and give a blessing. Prayers on the Sabbath usually consisted of two readings from the prophets, a short homily and a final blessing.
Jesus opens the scroll to the section of the prophet – the Second Isaiah, chapter 61 – and reads the text. It pithily describes the mission of the Servant of the Lord:
to announce the good news to the poor; release for prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind; to let the broken victims go free; and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Today political parties speak of a manifesto, a declaration of what they intend to do if elected. These lines are Jesus’s manifesto, a statement of intent on what he’s been sent to do, his tasks as messiah.
By virtue of his baptism, Jesus acknowledges that the Spirit of God is upon him and he has been anointed for a mission. To be anointed is another word for ‘Christ’, for messiah.
So Jesus’s mission is to proclaim a time of peace and blessings upon all, as happens during a jubilee year when all debts were wiped away and the land was restored to its original owners. This ‘year of grace’ was characterized by its universality; everyone was a beneficiary, no one was precluded. This is the essence of the ‘good news’. All those in situations of deprivation – the poor, prisoners, the broken-hearted, the blind – will have wholeness and abundance restored to them. And this will be done now.
Today, says Jesus, in your very hearing, this text has come true.
Did his listeners in the synagogue understand the importance of his words? They certainly admired his speech. Perhaps they did not fully grasp the changes which had to come about, for this situation of grace and freedom to exist. That is what Jesus will do during the years ahead when he preaches and teaches, heals and challenges.
All that his later public ministry would accomplish is indicated by Jesus in that opening speech in the synagogue in Nazareth.