Readings for the Christmas Season
The seventh day of Christmas
14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
…..18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
…..…..because he has anointed me
…..…..to bring good news to the poor.
…..He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
…..…..and recovery of sight to the blind,
…..…..to let the oppressed go free,
…..19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ Luke 4:14-21
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Whatever else we may think of Jesus, it is clear that he represented good news to “the poor” – those on the margins, those betrayed by health or circumstance, those widowed or orphaned or rejected. The phrase is not an economic one, even as we might refer to a grieving mother as “that poor woman” or to parents of a challenging child as “those poor people”.
The ‘poor’ in the Biblical world may have limited resources, but that covered nearly everyone. What mattered was a loss of social standing. The poor are the marginalized: the widows with no male family member to conduct their affairs in the public square, the lame who could not enter the temple, the lepers kept outside of town, the peasants who had lost their land, the tax collectors and others who had lost all honor and were social outcasts (Zacchaeus is in a tree not just because he was short, but because no one regarded him as worthy of making room for him.)
Nothing is more profound than the ruthlessness with which Jesus pursues this notion that all are honored before God. He doesn’t allow these poor to be ranked a little bit above those poor, like dogs beneath the table establishing their hierarchy while scrabbling for crumbs. He engages the woman at the well and Simon the Pharisee. He answers the prayer of the Syrophoenician woman and the Samaritan leper. Indeed, as Jesus speaks to the congregation in Nazareth in this passage today, he will alienate them all by saying that God cared equally for foreigners like the widow of Zarephath and Namaan the commander of the enemy army whom the prophet healed from his leprosy.
Good news and bad news intertwine. Good news for the poor who are welcomed; bad news if you want to maintain some sense of superiority over others. Good news because we are brought back into the fullness of the human community; bad news if you don’t want all to stand together in the presence of God. But today, in Christ, this scripture is fulfilled.