Fulfilled in Your Hearing
Text: Luke 4:16-30
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There’s a prevalent attitude today that assumes that no one can tell anyone else that they’re wrong about something. Unless, of course, you have enough voices shouting it. But even then, no matter what’s being argued, the assumption is that no one can ever really be proven wrong about anything. The idea that anyone could have access to a single truth that true for everyone is, for lack of a better word, scandalous.
Although such an attitude is much more widespread today than it has been in the past, it’s not an entirely new thing. All the way back in the Old Testament reading, the prophets would speak a word from the Lord—the Lord’s people were doing this or that thing that was wrong, that the Lord had told them not to do, for their own good—but they reacted with anger, with violence, with a cry of “Who are you to tell us what to do?” They didn’t like hearing that one person had access to the truth.
We see a similar thing in our Gospel reading today. Jesus goes into the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth on the Sabbath, as He always did—going to the place where the Lord’s Word was read and taught and preached on the holy day. And as a visiting rabbi, He was given the opportunity to read a passage of Scripture and explain it. So He stood and read the words from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set a liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And then He preached a very short sermon, saying, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” He said that He Himself was the fulfillment of what Isaiah had prophesied, that He was the Anointed One, that is, the Messiah, the Christ, who would bring the kingdom and reign of God.
It is one thing to say that God can become a man. We celebrate that fact at Christmas. After all, God, who is almighty, can do whatever He wants. Because He is all-powerful, He can be whatever He desires to be: a pillar of cloud by day or a pillar fire by night, a burning bush, a mighty warrior leading the angels of heaven. It’s one thing to say that God can be a man. It’s quite another thing to say that this Man is God. To single out one man and say that there, in the flesh, though He looks and speaks and eats and breathes like a human, that this man is the almighty, eternal, and infinite God. Yet this is exactly what Jesus said in our reading today. “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
The people in the synagogue reacted in much the same way that we would. “Who does this guy think he is? Isn’t this Joseph’s son? We know him! He grew up here. Then he goes off and becomes a rabbi and now he thinks he’s God!” And they were angry. Because if it were true, if this man, Jesus, was really God, that would mean that He was right—about everything—and it would mean that all those times He’s tried to correct them, all those times He spoke about something, every time He challenged them, that He was right and they were wrong. But who was He to say that they were mistaken? Who was He to say that they were lost, that they were poor and needed good news proclaimed to them? Who was He to say that they were captives in their sin, or blind to and in need of spiritual sight? How could He say that they were so wrong, that they needed to be saved?
It’s a refrain we know well. There’s a lot that the world is OK with us saying. We can talk about charity, peace, love, joy, and so on. So too, the people of Nazareth were fine with Jesus talking about the good prophesied by Isaiah: the good news proclaimed the poor, the healing of the blind, the setting free of the oppressed. They even marveled at His gracious words. But then when it’s explained why we have these things, that’s where we run into trouble. Jesus explained that these things were happening because He is God in human flesh, the Messiah, the Anointed One finally arrived, and that’s where it went out of bounds for the people there. That’s what happens today. We explain why we have peace, love, and joy; why we do the good that we can; why we believe that things will ultimately be restored and healed—it’s all because of Jesus—and that’s where the world scoffs. That’s where it mocks us. That’s where it tries to hold up its own solutions as messiahs, its own solutions as saviors. “Who are you to tell me that Jesus is the answer?” the world screams, “Why should it matter that I believe what you do?” The world rejects this answer of Jesus, this hope in Jesus alone and not in the world’s work.
And even we do it. We also scoff at our fellow believers who seem to express a little too much hope in Jesus. We also raise our eyebrows when someone doesn’t seem to put as much stock in what the world is holding out as a savior, especially if we’ve begun to accept it as our salvation from whatever trouble we face. We also hear those words of God’s Word: “You shall, you shall not…” and we wonder why we should hold those things as being good or right for us instead of what the world says. We hear Jesus say, “I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me,” and we bristle a little. Couldn’t there be another way to get God’s good pleasure? Shouldn’t what I do, or what he does or she does, or what they don’t do—shouldn’t it count for something? Shouldn’t we invest a little faith in what the world says is good or right? Can’t we trust two saviors, two messiahs, to solutions to our problems, spiritual or otherwise?
The people of Nazareth drove Jesus out of the synagogue, out of the town, to the edge of the cliff their city was built on. They wanted Jesus and all His far-fetched faith talk out—out of their town, out of their community, out of their ears. While we might not be as dramatic in our own ways, we’re not innocent of this either. We may not drive Jesus out of the town, but we do drive His words out of our ears, out of our hearts, not letting His words find a home in in us, preferring to fill ourselves with other words, words that tell us what we want to hear. While we my not try to push Jesus down a cliff, we do push the volume down on what He says, cutting down our time with Him, tuning out those words of His that we don’t like, that require more than a little faith to accept. The truth is that there are things Jesus says that we don’t like, even if He is God, even if He is the Messiah, and so we choose not to pay attention to those things, or to find something else to hear instead.
Yet Jesus keeps coming back. We read, in a somewhat mysterious way, He passed through the midst of the mob in Nazareth, and went away. But He didn’t stay away. Jesus doesn’t adopt the attitude of “I’ll show them,” or “I’ll just leave them alone then.” He kept going back to His wayward people, passing through as He made His way back and forth across Galilee. He kept sending prophets to Israel in the Old Testament, prophets after Elijah and Elisha, whom He mentions today, sending His messengers to speak His Word to His people, to tell them the hard things, even when they didn’t want to hear it. He keeps coming back to us. His Word calls out to us weekly, calling us back to Him in repentance, away from the cliffside. He calls us back to Himself with forgiveness in the Gospel, those well-worn and familiar paths that tell us what He’s done for us, dying in our place, rising again to make us new and holy. He comes to us week after week in Holy Communion, not abandoning us after we grumble, but delivering His grace to us. And in these ways, when forgiveness echoes in your ears, when His Words are spread before us on His table at the rail, in these ways, the words of the prophet are fulfilled in your hearing. We, the spiritually poor, have the Gospel proclaimed to us, the forgiveness of sins, making us rich in Him. We, the captives to sin, fear, and death, are set free to serve Him boldly and compassionately. We, who have been spiritually blind, see Him for who He is, the Truth made flesh, the only Hope, the only Messiah, the only God made man. Today, those promises are fulfilled in your hearing as your sins are forgiven, as the year of the Lord’s favor begins with His body and blood being given for you.
Jesus does not close the door, so long as we live. That’s what grace is. We can’t comprehend it. But it’s just one more proof that this man Jesus is God, doing what we can’t wrap our heads around, showing mercy and love and grace that no mere mortal could ever summon. He is the fulfillment of all that was foretold, the sum of all the Scriptures. So we are drawn to Him. We hear what He says is truth. We humble ourselves to learn from Him. And in Him, we are received time and again, until eternity dawns. In the name of Jesus, who is God, Amen.