Readings, Amos 5:1-2, 10-15 and Luke 4:14-30
Image, Paulo Medina, Ecce Homo, 2006. Acrylic on canvas, 70 x 60 cm.
Having completed our journey through Genesis, we have found ourselves approaching the end of the church’s liturgical year. Christ the King Sunday is four weeks away, followed by Advent, which leads us into Christmas. This short series explores important roles in the life and religion of Ancient Israel, and considers the way it is embodied by Jesus. Today, we consider Jesus as a prophet of God. The gospels are deliberate in positioning Jesus as a prophet (though, of course, not only as prophet), sent by God to the people with a purpose. A prophet in the line of Miriam and Moses, Elijah and Elisha, Amos and Isaiah. A prophet sent – as prophets tend to be – with a message of hope and judgment, reform and redemption, designed to draw the people back to their calling as God’s own.
We heard a snippet of Amos, which is typical of many of the prophets. The prophet delivers a message from God where the people are charged with neglecting their worship (this time through their mistreatment of the poor). The people are then called to repent, so that they might be redeemed. And then, despite their words of warning and woe, the prophet ends with the promise of God, who will not abandon the people, but establish peace and justice.
Jesus follows in this line. In today’s reading Jesus proclaims himself as the fulfilment of that promise which the prophet Isaiah delivered. He has come to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, the recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and announce the year of the Lord’s favour. The hoped for restitution and redemption, the establishment of justice, the overturning of the worldly powers of captivity and exploitation are announced by Jesus and in announcing them fulfilled. Jesus signals to the assembly that such things are no longer anticipated, but arrive in his very life and ministry.
Across this life and ministry, Jesus regularly steps into what resembles a prophetic office. For example, his condemnation of the gap between what is confessed and carried out by those who hold religious and material power. Indeed, much of Jesus’ teaching centres a return to the law, to the heart of Torah found in the commands to uplift the lowly, love the least, and let justice roll like a river. In addition to this reformist rhetoric, Jesus also resembles the prophet in his apocalyptic teachings on the coming terror and trials to be faced by the people, and his woe and lament at those who will suffer greatly, accompanied of course by the promise of restoration for the people in a new, peaceable kingdom.
But prophets are more than words. Across the Old Testament prophets engage prophetic acts. Some of these acts illuminate or emphasise a message, seeking to draw the attention that their words have failed to muster. An example of this is Jeremiah buying a plot of land in soon to be ransacked and exiled Israel to emphasise the promise of later return, or Ezekiel who took brick and sticks to make a miniature of the city and lay down next to it for three hundred and ninety days to signal the punishment coming to the house of Israel. Another kind of prophetic act, is that which demonstrate the power of God and the position of the prophet as one charged with that power. Moses turning his staff into a serpent, or Elijah producing the unceasing portion of meal for the widow who offered him welcome.
Jesus performs both kinds of activities in his ministry. Sometimes, as in the case of the Gerasene Demoniac at the same time. For here Jesus demonstrates wields divine power in the confrontation with evil, and illustrates his confrontation with empire (the demons sharing the name of a Roman military grouping and liberation coming with them being cast from the land).
And so, Jesus the Prophet comes bearing a message of God. A familiar prophetic message of hope and justice, of repent and reform, of redemption and restoration, of the faithfulness of God to draw all people back to the way of life. And accompanying these messages, Jesus engages familiar prophetic actions, both aimed at emphasising and illuminating his message, and demonstrating his power as an emissary of God. The question then is what does this mean for us who have been sent by this emissary, sent by Christ the prophet?
Because, as we will soon proclaim at this table, we are the body of Christ. We are charged as disciples to follow after Christ, continuing his ministry in the world. We too are anointed to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. Such things are fulfilled in the hearing of those standing around Christ in Nazareth, and they are carried on by the church in the world today. And so, what does it look like for us to take up and live out the prophetic office of Christ as his disciples today?
Naturally our minds might go to those heroes of the faith whose actions we have recognised as prophetic. Those who advocated abolition, who opposed dispossession, who put their bodies on the line for their civil rights long before these campaigns gained mainstream approval. But while these are exemplary, might living out the prophetic office of Christ also take more everyday forms? Might it also look like holding onto and holding out good news stories in an age of despair? Might it also take the form of small changes to our everyday rhythms and choices to lessen our impact on God’s good creation? Might it also be witnessed to in the small interruptions of the callous words of those around us? Might it be seen in kids finding humour in ghouls and ghosts reminding us in costumes and face paint that death has no sting? Might it also be heard in voices joined together in song to proclaim the goodness of God? Might it be found in the faithful act of retuning, month by month, to the table of grace, proclaiming that by eating a little bread and drinking a little juice, we both receive and become the body of Christ, sent to love and serve the world?
For all these acts, as mundane as they might appear, look back and point forward to the dazzling figure of Christ, who was sent in love to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
Please enjoy a collection of sermons preached in recent months at the Kirk. If you have questions about the sermons, or attending a service reach out using the Contact Page.