the penultimate WORD
Series 1999 - St. Luke Canon Jim Irvine
"Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing"

"Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
Luke 4: 21


Having returned to Nazareth, Jesus attended the local synagogue on the Sabbath. That had been his pattern for years. From his youth, Jesus had walked along with Joseph and taken his place among the faithful. He listened as others read from the Torah and the other scrolls. His voice blended with others in the Amen as prayer gave voice of faith.

And now, it was his turn to go to the podium and read the scripture.

He selected the Isaiah scroll and unrolled it, coming to the passage. He began to read.

"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,
to proclaim the year of the Lordís favour

The reading concluded, Jesus took his seat. Silence filled the space. Light, filtered through the air, cast the assembly in a fresco of studied anticipation. Attention was riveted on Jesus, waiting for him to speak.

Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

Astonishment displaced anticipation.

A familiar passage, to be sure, and not one that had been neglected in the past. This scripture had been read, and studied. The men had listened to the words of the prophet and had considered them closely. They had been reflected upon and commentary had been exhaustive. After generations, there was little more that might be said that hadnít already been said. But, out of reverence for the Word of the Lord, and in respect for Jesus having recently returned to his home congregation, the men sat waiting and listening.

"Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing," he began.

Indeed, astonishment displaced anticipation!

The anticipation of fulfilled prophecy had allowed imaginations to soar and rise to heights of idealism. "To bring good news to the poor," Isaiah had written. And generations had interpreted this in each age of belief. Captives looked forward to release. First, the captives of this age, and then of that age, and then of no age in particular. Disappointment numbed hope and captives became philosophical and long in the tooth. "He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives," Jesus had read and his words rang clearly in the synagogue. One occupational force after another had reduced this to poetry and now there were the Romans.

"Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing," he had said.

And astonishment displaced anticipation!

Confusion had clouded interpretation and the application of Isaiahís prophecy. The recovery of sight to the sightless and the freeing of the oppressed had taken every turn. Physical blindness gave way to spiritual blindness. Social, economic and political oppression gave way to the weight of guilt and shame. The former was not likely ever to change; one external oppression simply succeeded another. The latter could never be realized for only God could forgive sin and his benevolence was a thin hope.

"Today," Jesus had said, "this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." There, in Nazareth, in the still silence of the synagogue wholeness and restoration touched lives. The touch hadnít been felt before. We act now like it hasnít been felt since. But there, and beginning then, Jesus proclaimed the year of the Lordís favour.

Copyright © 1999 James T. Irvine

Series 1999