“The spirit of the Lord is upon me.”
Today’s gospel occurs immediately after Christ was led by the spirit into the desert for 40 days. There he utterly defeated the tempter with his refusal to use his divine powers for himself. By refusing Jesus demonstrated that he had fully assumed mankind’s humanity and shared in our nature totally. Accordingly Christ felt all that we feel – hunger, tears, love, rejection, loneliness and abandonment. Indeed, by so doing, he makes it plain that he fully assumed and shared in our humanity, our human nature, our human will and in our human needs. Christ did not give the appearance of being a human – he was fully human and fully God united in the one person. Whilst fully man he was also God inexpressible, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, ever existing, ever the same. Jesus who is God with the Father and the Holy Spirit bought us from non-being into being and when we fall he will raise us up again and will leave nothing undone until he brings us up to heaven and bestows on us the kingdom to come.
Nazareth was a town where Jesus was raised. Whilst being born in Bethlehem, Joseph took Mary and the child to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod. After Herod’s death he returned to Judaea and lived in Nazareth. This fulfilled the prophecy of Hosiah that “out of Egypt I called my son”. On the Sabbath Jesus in the synagogue was given the book of the prophet Isaiah. He then opened the book to the passage and searched for the verses that he wanted to read – and not those of the reading of the day. Let us pause for a moment to consider this: it must be remembered that the readings in the synagogue were fixed just as our gospel and Epistle readings are fixed today. It is not permissible, and certainly would offend good authority, if each priest were to open up the gospel and read whatever they wanted to. So what Christ was doing was in a very real sense being confrontational to the synagogue authorities by selecting what he chose rather than what was preordained by the Jewish lectionary. This theme of Christ being pitted against the church authorities is emphasised from the outset of his Ministry in Matthews’s gospel and certainly is a dominant theme through all the Gospels.
What did Christ choose to read? From the entire book of Isaiah Christ chose to read chapter 61 verse one and the first line of verse 2. From the first line reading: “the spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me” we get an insight as to why Christ chose this reading. Immediately we are presented with the Trinitarian understanding of God. In this one sentence, we have the Holy Spirit, the Father, and Christ. Christ has been anointed not by human hand as were all the other Christs but by the Father through the Spirit. Let us remember that the word “Christos” in Greek means the anointed one. The Jewish word “Messiah” was the word applied to high priests who were anointed with oil. Here, Christ declares that he has not been anointed by a human hand but rather by the Father and through the Holy Spirit. Christ by so declaring makes it clear that he is acting in total accord with both the Father and the Spirit. Indeed, that is the way we understand Christ to act – always in total accord with the will of God. By God we mean the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. At no time can the Father act without the total will the Son or the Spirit. At no time can the Spirit act without the total will of the Father and the Son. At no time can the Son act without the total will of the Father and the Spirit. All three are in perfect accord and all three are in perfect union.
And what was Christ’s mission? His mission was to preach to the poor. And who were the poor? Let us not limit our thoughts to those who lacked material necessities and consider those to be the poor that Christ was referring to. Christ was anointed to preach the Gospel to the poor. The poverty that is referred to here by Christ is not lack of necessities but the lack of spiritual sufficiency. Let us remember the Jews had their prophets and the law. They had Elijah and Moses to sustain them whereas the Gentiles – you and me – had neither the law or the prophets to lift them out of their spiritual poverty. The fact that the Jews rejected the prophets and focused on the dead letter of the law in all its minor detail and ultimately rejected the Christ is the reason that Christ preached the gospel to the Gentiles.
But Christ goes further. He has come to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to those in chains, for recovery of sight to the blind, and to set at liberty those who are oppressed. Christ’s mission, even though he knows he will be rejected, is to offer himself to everyone. Both Jew and Gentile were and continue to be in chains through their sins. Both Jew and Gentile were and continue to be blinded by their greed, lust and self-centeredness which is fuelled by the devil. Both Jew and Gentile whenever the situation affords itself will oppress their fellow human beings for the sake of material advantage for themselves. If it’s a question of you or me then they would reason that if it was to their advantage that it was better me than you and if they reasoned that it was to their disadvantage their response would be better you than me. Let us face the fact that the world is full of oppression. Christ came to give hope to the hopeless and help to the helpless. He came to show the oppressed that through him they could be free.
In short, Christ came to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. It is an acceptable year, a year that is much desired and beloved and awaited for, when the Lord our God dwells with us in the flesh. The reality is that whether it is an acceptable year of the Lord is individual to each one of us. Do we today accept him as our Lord and saviour? Do we today follow in his footsteps? Do we today give hope to the hopeless and help to the helpless? Do we today ensure that we love one another as he loved us? If yes then we can claim that it is an acceptable year of the Lord. Ultimately it is an acceptable year when we are prepared to accept Christ as our Lord and saviour. If we can say that we accept Christ as our Lord and saviour, truly say that and mean that and act on that, then we can also truly say today that this Scripture is fulfilled by Christ in our hearing. Amen.