This Sunday’s Gospel reading is the last in a series which have run from the Feast of the Epiphany about the different ways in which Jesus’ glory is manifest in the world. We have read of the visit of the Magi (Jan 6), the Baptism of Christ (Jan 13), the turning of the water into wine at Cana (Jan 20) and today we read of Jesus’ sermon at the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4.14-21) – when he reveals himself as the one in whom Isaiah’s prophecy of ‘Good News to the poor…release to the captives… [and] the year of the Lord’s favour’ [that is, the year of Jubilee] is fulfilled.
The Eucharistic Prayer used in the Church of England at this time of year draws these different Gospel readings together into a single thread of Jesus’ self-revelation:
In the coming of the Magi
the King of all the world was revealed to the nations.
In the waters of baptism
Jesus was revealed as the Christ,
the Saviour sent to redeem us.
In the water made wine
the new creation was revealed at the wedding feast.
Poverty was turned to riches, sorrow into joy.
In thinking about Jesus’ message in today’s Gospel, it is important to see it as part of this wider series. The ‘Good News for the poor’ is both a promise of personal redemption – as we recognise Jesus Christ as the one through whom our sins are washed away, and we are reconciled to God – and a promise of social transformation – as the whole creation is called to reveal God’s love and his justice.
The image we were given last Sunday, of the water used for purification under the law being turned into the wine of celebration, draws these two aspects of the ‘Good News’ together. It has both a personal component (I don’t need to earn my salvation – it comes as a free gift of grace) and a social one (the foretaste of the Kingdom is of a common feast, at which all can enjoy God’s abundant generosity).
These two aspects of the Gospel are also brought together each time we gather to share the Eucharist. Here we experience salvation as a gift, not an achievement – and also see a model of Kingdom relationships and Kingdom sharing, of the good things of creation distributed in a way that ensures all are welcomed and all are fed. As we hear Jesus proclaim ‘Good News to the poor’ and the year of Jubilee – how are we called to experience that reality in our personal walk with Jesus, and in our common witness as his Body in a world with so much injustice and need?
The Church Urban Fund and the Contextual Theology Centre have now launched their Lent materials – which help churches address these questions in relation to their local contexts. (These courses can also be used at other times in the year.) Pray for churches who will be using these and other resources to consider how to receive and embody that Good News with fresh passion and power this Lent.