Third Sunday after Epiphany
Jesus returns to Nazareth, his home town, as was his custom goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath, and reads a short passage from the scriptures, as might any Jewish male, after which he sits down to teach, as the custom also was, and all eyes are on him. What will he say by way of comment on those beautiful but challenging words from Isaiah? What comes must be just about the shortest sermon in recorded history – “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
The atmosphere in the synagogue must have been electric. Just consider those words: good news to the poor. Most of these people would have been poor. The poor need good news – they cannot buy favours, let alone loyalty or compassion, they are powerless in a world where power counts for everything. Beyond that they are frequently personally unappealing – smelly, badly dressed, often addicted to drugs and other life denying habits and stealing to fund their habits.
Our ancestors used to talk about the deserving poor and the undeserving poor, but Jesus makes no such distinction – it’s not why they are poor, but the fact that they are poor which dictates that they need good news – which is not simply a matter of handouts and sympathy of the kind that says “I feel your pain” – they need new ways of living, they need to recover their humanity, and Jesus’ good news offers them just such an opportunity. And poverty extends far beyond material things – surely our generation is spiritually poorer than almost any since our ancestors crawled out of the primeval swamp or got out of their spaceships from Mars if you prefer that version. To their credit, Christians have been bringing such good news to the poor for two thousand years now and anyone rash enough to be a Christian needs to work out how in his or her life they can follow the example of the Master. As we have been blessed so we should be a blessing to others.
And the Lord concludes his brief homily with words of challenge and encouragement – today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. A short sermon but the challenge of a lifetime, and a challenge for a lifetime. It can all seem too much, far too idealistic: the world’s not like that, and if you get in the way of the powerful you get hurt. But God can work wonders even with unpromising material like us. No one is going to bring about that new order that we call the Kingdom single handed. But together we can, and we surely must all play our part. It’s the application of synergy. Synergy is the highly unmathematical proposition that 2 + 2 = 5. In other words if two people on their own can do so much, add another two and they will do more than twice as much.
We are all called to be synergists. So we are challenged to think on these things, pray about these things and listen to what God is saying to us. Not just once, but day by day, so that God will show us how we can be a blessing to others by doing our bit to bring about the Kingdom which Our Lord lived for, died for, and rose to glory for.
Fr. Edward Bryant