Rev. Joshua D. Gill
The 100 days, 100 letters is a national nonpartisan campaign of scholars from diverse religious traditions that have something to say about our shared values as Americans. The goal of the project is to contribute constructively to our national discourse. On the 100th day of Biden Administration 117th Congress Daniel Fisher-Livne Assistant Professor of Bible at Hebrew Union College wrote the following: “This letter marks the end of our 100-day project. Yet, this is still a beginning of the administration. This is a beginning for us, as individuals and as a nation, to envision what we can be and to work to bring about that vision. At moments like this I am reminded of the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur. This annual fall ritual, during which Jews read portions of Leviticus 16, this brings us together, united as a community. We acknowledge and reflect upon our actions over the past year and resolve to do better in the coming year. Doing so divides time in two. There is what was. There is what will be. What will be — the future — is ours to shape. Like Yom Kippur, this requires communal ownership of the work to be done.”
In this week’s scripture, one of things that has always puzzled me is how quickly the crowd reacts with rage. This week we are going to focus on what Jesus says and does and next week we will focus on the reaction of the crowd. In the synoptic gospels this is the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry, the way he begins his ministry after silence from the gospel writers from the age of the 12 to around 30. We don’t know what Jesus was doing. He was likely working, but he was also clearly doing other things, as well. During this period there was a movement called “Haberim” meaning “the friends” in which serious minded Jews would get together in the evenings to discuss the law and Jewish teachings. According to scholars it is clear through Jesus’ demonstration of rabbinic style that he is accustomed to this debate.
Jesus comes to his home town of Nazareth after a series of unrecorded healings in Capernaum. The town of Nazareth is not mentioned in the first testament. According to archeological records it is likely an all Jewish town. After the fall of the temple is recorded that twenty-four priests now refugees all settled in Nazareth. Galilee the area surrounded Nazareth or what would be akin to the county has become almost exclusively a gentile area. So, this was a Jewish community in the midst of a sea of gentiles.
Jesus attends the local synagogue. It was customary for worship leaders to invite a worthy person to read scripture and then comment on the reading. He begins his reading by telling the congregation that the spirit of the Lord is upon him. This phrase can only be interpreted in one of two ways. One that Jesus was anointed of God and had come to bring freedom to God’s people or as Ken Bailey says, “ he was an arrogant, presumptuous, and perhaps dangerous young man who must be silenced”. Immediately the crowd is forced to make a choice. Then Jesus begins to read.
He reads from portions of Isaiah 61 and 58. Jesus does not read these passages word for word. Instead he creatively edits them. The scene probably would have looked something like this: He would have been invited forward. He either asked for Isaiah 61 ahead of time or it was given to him. Jesus would then unroll the text and read the Hebrew. Very few people would have known this language, most would have only understood Aramaic. So, Jesus would have read the Hebrew and translator would have interpreted his words into Aramaic. During this period the reader was obligated to read the Torah word for word. But if they were reading from the prophets the reader was permitted to skip words but only so much that he leaves no time for the interpreter to make a pause. The goal was for no pauses or breaks in the reading and interpretation. Isaiah 61 would have been a beloved passage to Jewish people living in the midst of a gentile occupation. Instead of reading the passage straight through, Jesus takes creative license.
He tells the crowd that he is there to preach the good news to the poor, that he is sent to proclaim freedom to prisoners, to recover sight to the blind, to send forth the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord. This all sounds great, so what does he leave out? And why is it so upsetting to the crowd? What he leaves out is the vengeance. The longing from this community was a Jewish Nazareth; the longing was a Jewish Galilee. Or as it goes on to say in Isaiah 61 you shall eat the possessions of the gentiles… The gentiles will do the hard labor for you and you will receive all the blessings… In short, the people were longing for a changing of the position, they were longing for the oppressed to become the oppressor. What is so upsetting and enraging is Jesus does put a qualifier on God’s love, on God’s justice. Jesus does not put up a barrier and say we will benefit and they will suffer, his perspective is that all will receive these profound gifts from God. That Jesus has come to benefit all people.
Marcus Borg once described this when he was reflecting on God’s will for our lives. “God wills our liberation, our exodus from Egypt. God wills our reconciliation, our return from exile. God wills our enlightenment, our seeing. God wills our forgiveness, our release from sin and guilt. God wills that we see ourselves as God’s beloved. God wills our resurrection, our passage from death to life. God wills for us food and drink that satisfy our hunger and thirst. God wills, comprehensively, our well-being—not just my well-being as an individual but the well-being of all of us and of the whole of creation. In short, God wills our salvation, our healing, here on earth. The Christian life is about participating in the salvation of God and that is what Jesus is inaugurating. Jesus calling us to a future of what will be where we work side by side for the betterment of all people.
 Marcus J. Borg. The God we never knew: Beyond Dogmatic Religion to a More Authentic Contemporary Faith.