Homeland Jubilee

The challenge Jesus gives us.

“‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’”  

Luke 4:18-19, NIV

In this passage, Jesus announces his mission, quoting Isaiah 61, in his Nazareth homeland. This wonderful proclamation of good news turned quickly into a violent, ugly encounter. Why?
Jesus was reading a well-known text. In the Isaiah tradition it celebrated the return home from Exile and looked for fuller restoration. It reflected the old practice of Jubilee when every 50 years the land was returned to family ownership and all family were encouraged to return to their homeland (Lev. 25). Because Jubilee began on the Day of Atonement, the themes of freedom and forgiveness were woven in. Jubilee, the return from Exile, and the Day of Atonement were foretastes of living in the Lord’s favour.

When Jesus said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,” it was a shocking announcement. Shocking because Jesus applied the “me” in the text to himself, Spirit embodied, anointed and sent. Shocking because the claim was “today.”

JOSEPH’S BOY

The people’s initial response is unclear. Translations and interpretations vary. Were they first impressed by the hometown boy and his eloquent words (“spoke well of him”) or offended by his claims (“spoke against him”)? Why did he stop before Isaiah’s announcement of God’s vengeance? How could he, Joseph’s boy, make such a claim?

Jesus knew they wanted proof. They wanted to see miraculous evidence that would benefit them. They wanted power that would raise them up and knock their enemies down. Jesus replied that like in the days of Elijah and Elisha God’s blessings would go to others. Why? Because like the time of Elijah and Elisha his hometown people were chasing after the gods of the world? Because they refused to see God or others in their midst? 

TODAY

When we hear Jesus’ announcement of his mission, we usually see ourselves as the object. Many of us, although not poor, either economically or socially, not captive nor oppressed, spiritualize these categories as metaphors of our spiritual state without Jesus. This is in part true, but Luke is also calling us to be subjects in the mission. 

We need to see ourselves with Jesus in mission, not (only) as the people in need. The Spirit of the Lord is on us. We are anointed to proclaim good news and sent to announce new beginnings today.

PROPHETIC MESSAGE

Are we willing risk rejection with this proclamation? In this opening sermon in his hometown, Jesus was. When challenged, he did not back down. He challenged their attitude towards the poor, the captives, those who saw things wrong, and the oppressed. He challenged them to change their focus from themselves to the other.

The challenge is still here. Are we, Christians, and especially preachers like myself, willing to challenge the homeland attitudes, the attitude of judgment on others, the attitude of a “health and wealth” gospel, the attitude of “don’t rock the boat”? The prophetic message is to look to the need of the other and speak.

HOMELAND COMMUNITY

Jesus was rejected by his hometown because he had a greater vision of community. This is also the vision behind Luke’s presentation in his gospel and in Acts, a community that cares for the poor and oppressed, those who do not belong.

In the U.S., the word “homeland” has turned ugly. It has become associated with “security” and “nationalism.” It is not a word of welcome. It is against the alien, the foreigner, the immigrant and the poor. Homeland is us against them. It is defensive and fearful. It is not good news.
Christians need to challenge the homeland with a message of welcome, of good news, of freedom, of jubilee. Won’t you be my neighbour? 

Author

  • Dr. Thomas Wolthuis is a CRC pastor serving as the English pastor of the Chinese Church of Iowa City. He has been a campus minister, institute president, professor, pastor, and church planter. His Biblical Studies podcasts are at www.geneva-ui.org.

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