You probably noticed that I read a bit more of the Gospel of Luke today than what was printed in the bulletin. That’s because of the blizzard last week. I read some of what we would have heard last week to set the stage for our Gospel reading today. It’s important to understand what’s going on – To know that Jesus read from Isaiah 61, a text about Jubilee.
In case you’ve forgotten, or maybe never knew, the Jubilee comes from the Old Testament law, from the book of Leviticus, chapter 25, where it says:
You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years. 9Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month — on the day of atonement — you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land. 10And you shall hallow the 50th year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. 11That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. 12For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces.
- All debts are forgiven
- All slaves are set free
- And all land and property reverts back to its original owner
- And the land itself even gets to rest from planting for a year
Only, there is no evidence of God’s people ever actually doing this, though it’s right there in the Law of God. And it’s this jubilee law that the book of the prophet Isaiah is referring to. And it’s about this jubilee law that Jesus says: “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” And it must have left the hearers scratching their heads a bit, though, their overall response is a pretty positive response, at least at first.
It’s like they’re saying: “Hey, check out the local boy. He’s done pretty well for himself. This is Joseph’s kid, right? We remember him playing in the neighborhood, and look at him now – preaching, and working miracles, and having disciples.” They seem impressed, until Jesus decides, for some reason or another, and Luke doesn’t tell us why, but Jesus decides to pick a fight with them, and things go sideways. Jesus provokes the people with his: “Doubtless you’re gonna want me to do here the kinds of miracles you’ve heard about me doing elsewhere, but a prophet is never accepted in their hometown.”
Only, they were accepting him, at least at first, until he really started to push the envelope, pointing out how broad God’s love is for everyone. And it’s at that point that the people turn on him. It’s not until he starts to point out that, though there were lots of poor widows at the time, God only sent the prophet to the widow at Zarephath, and though there were lots of lepers at the time, God only miraculously cleansed the leper Naaman from Syria. The people were cool with hearing about the Jubilee, because, well, it was about them receiving a blessing from God, though they had never really kept it in any real way. So, fine, Jesus, go ahead and talk about this nice idea that doesn’t have any effect on our lives. Whatever!
But when Jesus starts to point out that, in fact, God cares for everyone and everything that God has made, including our enemies, all those warm fuzzies they were feeling toward the local boy made good go right out the window – or over the cliff as the case may be. Once Jesus starts to push the people to expand their understanding of God’s love, and how that love is supposed to be manifested in their real lives in terms of God’s call to love, not only those who love us back, but also those we consider enemies, or those who consider us to be enemies, well, that’s a bridge too far! And the crowd turns on Jesus, and they want to toss him over a cliff outside of town…
Now, it’s no mistake that, in 1st Corinthians 13, as Paul is in the middle of an extended argument correcting many of the Corinthian Church’s errors, that he takes a whole chapter to address what he calls the 3 greatest spiritual gifts – faith, hope and love, with the greatest of these being love. And it’s no mistake that he defines what he means by this love so carefully, because it really is the heart of the whole thing.
Being a disciple of Jesus means that you are called to love God with all you are – your whole heart, soul, mind and strength, right? – and to love your neighbor as yourself. But it also means that you’re called to love your enemies the same way, with a love that’s patient and kind, that’s never self-seeking or resentful, that’s not rude or arrogant or irritable, but long-suffering and hope-filled and never-ending. So pick an enemy. Conjure up in your mind’s eye the worst of the worst in all of humanity. And now cover that image with the kind of love that Paul describes in 1st Corinthians 13.
Or imagine how one of those crowds up in Iowa that we’ve been seeing so much of on the news these days would react if one of the front-runners in either party would step up to the mic today and tell us that God demands that we love Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, or ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi! How would the crowd react? How would you react?
Ok, so now, maybe, we get a little glimpse of just how radical a thing Jesus said, and why his own neighbors in his own hometown wanted to throw him off a cliff and kill him!
Only, the thing we have to realize is, Jesus has said exactly this type of radical thing to each and every one of us already! And he’s made it a part of the Jubilee proclamation…
Now, the 50 year jubilee was, like so much of what’s in the Old Testament, meant to point to a deeper truth that we now understand as having been fulfilled in Jesus – in his life, ministry, teaching, death, resurrection. The jubilee was to point to our ultimate experience of being set free in Christ.
In his death and resurrection we are set free from sin and death, once and for all, but it’s not just for us. The Gospel of John makes it clear that God so loved the whole world – everyone and everything that God ever made, God loved it all so much – that God sent Jesus, not to condemn the world, but to save it. And what we need to realize is that, in John’s Gospel, that world, or cosmos in the Greek, is the world that rejects, hates and kills God. That’s the world that Jesus loves and dies for – the God hating, God rejecting, God killing world. It’s that world that Jesus comes, not to condemn, but to save! To declare jubilee to!
The jubilee has come in Jesus
- Born in Bethlehem
- Raised in Nazareth
- Baptized in the Jordan
- Proclaiming the Gospel of freedom from sin and death through word and deed
- Murdered in Jerusalem
- Raised up on the 3rd day
The jubilee has come in Jesus, and our lives are changed by it forever and in every way imaginable…
In a little while, after we’ve shared in the Lord’s Supper together, we’re going to transition into our congregational business meeting, and we’re going to hear about and celebrate together some of the wonderful jubilee-like things we do together for the sake of the Gospel and the good of the world, here in and through this congregation, in the name of Jesus. And I pray that we’ll all stay and participate in this time together, because this is our chance to stand together and to sound the trumpet and proclaim to all the world that this is the day of jubilee! For Christ has come to set us free!
This is the day of jubilee for all the needy world, and we need not fear that that includes everyone and everything, but, rather, that we can celebrate that it includes everyone, because that means it even includes the likes of us – frail and flawed and imperfect as we are.
This is the day of jubilee in which God’s saving word is proclaimed in word and in deed by and through the people of God, empowered by the Spirit, and sent out in service in the name of Jesus, the One who has come and set us free to become servants! Free to love and serve the whole world, everyone and everything, friend and neighbor, self and enemy alike, in his saving name.
Jesus is our freedom!
Jesus is our salvation!
Jesus is our jubilee!