Two weeks ago, I informed you that the season of Christmas and Epiphany was officially over. That is the season when we celebrate Jesus being revealed to the world, first by his birth and then to the mysterious Wise Men (who can be taken as representing us, the gentiles). Then last week I said we weren’t quite finished because The Wedding Feast of Cana was traditionally seen as part of the Epiphany as revealing Jesus’ supernatural power and now we have yet again a Gospel story that really belongs to the revelation process: it is Jesus’s first public sermon which finally launches him into his ministry. Today’s gospel may not strike you as being anything special, but it is theologically one of the most important, even most sublime, texts in the NT. As with last week’s event, the wedding feast of Cana, we are right at the beginning of his ministry he has caused a stir in the wider world and people in his home town, Nazareth, want to see and hear more: so, they invite him to preach. He chooses a text from Isaiah which would have been well known to them, The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me …It is a text which sets out an agenda, even lists the characteristics, which would enable Judaism to recognize the Messiah when he came. He reads it out and everyone looks at him with expectation, wondering what he will say about this hallowed text. Amazingly he applies it to himself: “This text [he says] is being fulfilled today even as you listen”.
That is the point at which today’s selection is cut off but next week we will get the second half. Jesus’ claim is clear. He is saying that he is not just another prophet and that his preaching is not just another moment in the series in which God renews the covenant with the people. He is the Messiah, the one promised in the text just read, the one anointed to preach good news to the poor and release to captives, to restore sight to the blind and to set at liberty those who are oppressed. He is himself the interpretation of the text. We might even go further and say that the text interprets Him since He is himself the Word to which these words point.
It is rare that Scripture moves us to anything, whether tears or anger! The words of the scripture are too often familiar and flat. Perhaps, like the chorus in T.S.Eliot’s play Murder in the Cathedral, ‘we do not want anything to happen’ when we read them.
Of course, it is nice to be comforted by the words of Scripture and to pretend that we are allowing ourselves to be challenged by them. But what if something were to happen? What if a preacher were to hit a nail on the head? What if a text came close to being fulfilled in our hearing, a text about judgement or a text about love? What if a friend were suddenly to take the teaching of Jesus seriously? That surely would upset our comfort zone and we would dismiss them as fanatics.
Jesus comes to Nazareth we are told ‘in the power of the Spirit’ and this is how we must come to the reading and hearing of the Word of God. Where it is read and received in prayer there is hope that the Word might achieve that for which it is sent. Then we will be ready for it to be fulfilled in our hearing. And hearing is the keyword.
There is quite a movement going on in the Church in recent years by which an old monastic tradition known as Lectio Divina (which I have spoken about before) is being revived as a prayer form for individual or group use. Briefly, it amounts to reflective reading, particularly of Scripture. The idea, at its simplest, is that you don’t just read a text but you pray a text: listening to its message with silent pauses between phrases, perhaps reading it three or four times, so that you can really hear the Word of God hear what the text is saying to you. It reminds us of those keywords of Jesus: Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.