Scripture: Luke 4:14-21
“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 Lord’s favour.” ~ Luke 4:18-19
One of the unfortunate realities of our modern society is the amount of debt each one of us carries around. In 2020 the average household debt in Canada rose to $1.71 for every dollar of disposable income, meaning that on average Canadians have 171% more debt than their income – which puts a strain on our finances, to say the least. While debt is certainly not a new phenomenon historically – the advent of credit cards and mortgages in the 20th century has meant that we are often carrying levels of debt beyond our means to repay and generally unheard on a historical level, at least with how universal debt is within society.
This isn’t to say that debt didn’t exist in previous generations, merely that as our economic model moved away from the principles of barter trade, debt became a foundational part of our economic system.
Ancient Israel was not immune to the phenomenon of debt, though the debt was not related to our modern understanding of consumer or mortgage debt and rooted in an oppressive system that allowed the rich and powerful to manipulate the poor for their benefit. Families could be trapped in debt for generations, as debts were inherited from father to son and whole families would lose their inheritance and remain in poverty for generations.
While debt in ancient Israel was debilitating, the Torah, the laws of Israel that were part of their covenant with God, provided a means of restoration and redemption – the year of Jubilee. The year of Jubilee was the great equalizer – every fifty years the people of Israel were tasked with eliminating all debts and returning all ancestral property to their rightful owner. If followed the year of Jubilee would ensure that debt and the imprisonment or slavery which often came with it would never last more than a generation or two.
And it is on this concept, this concept of Jubilee, that the Gospel of Luke tells us Jesus begins his ministry. Throughout the first three and a half chapters of the Gospel of Luke, we have been treated to two chapters surrounding Jesus’ birth and an additional chapter around his baptism and John the Baptist. After being tempted in the wilderness Jesus returns to Galilee and began teaching in the synagogues around his hometown. The passage we read today is truly Jesus’ first act, it sets the tone for the entirety of ministry, just like a politician with an opening speech to lay out their platform, Jesus’ first act and teaching lays out who he is and what he is about.
Whether it was by fortune or design that Jesus sought the scroll of the passage from Isaiah (the original Greek is unclear on the matter) doesn’t change anything – his first public act is to read and teach about God’s promise of Jubilee; the promise of release to captives, good news to the poor, liberation to the oppressed and sight to blind – the year of the Lord’s favour.
And then with everyone rapt with attention, Jesus sat down and began to teach. Luke didn’t include much of that teaching in our passage, but what he did was enough. Jesus began his teaching by saying that the scripture he had just read was fulfilled in their hearing – that Jesus himself was a God’s enactment of Jubilee.
It was a pretty bold claim for Jesus to make in his first truly public appearance, and it is a claim that would lead Jesus into conflict both in this case and throughout his ministry, but like a politician’s platform speech it outlined what Jesus’ ministry would be about. And think about it, over and over again in his ministry Jesus lived out and brought God’s Jubilee wherever he went – think of all the people who he healed, liberating them from their medical conditions that kept them isolated and ostracized; think of the blind men and women who received their sight and could once again fully participate in their society; think of all the least and the lost who Jesus hung out with, broke bread with and offered a vision of the glorious Kingdom where mercy and justice flow.
But that isn’t even the whole of it; while Jesus was declaring God’s Jubilee in the physical and tangible aspects of the people he helped and even in our own lives he was also declaring Jubilee on a cosmic scale. Sin and the death that was brought through our human disobedience and turning away from God is the most oppressive force in the universe. It causes us to turn against ourselves and one another, to seek our interests at the expense of others to the detriment of our world as a whole.
Unlike the ailments or captivities that Jesus healed during his earthly ministry, the oppression caused by Sin is universal – rich and poor, powerful and weak, young and old – no one is immune from the captivity that our sin debt creates – the payment always comes due and on our own, we cannot pay it.
For this reason, Jesus was and is God’s enactment of the Cosmic Jubilee. In Jesus, we have the opportunity for all of our debts to be wiped clean and we are allowed to have what was lost, to have our ancestral inheritance returned to us as we are welcomed as children of God, co-heirs with Christ, co-heirs to the abundant Kingdom of God which is God’s plan for fulfillment of all things.
Through his death and resurrection Jesus proclaimed the eternal year of the Lord’s favour, the eternal year of Jubilee; not a year that would come about once a generation or two, but a year that would last forever. As we accept the grace of God extended to us by the Holy Spirit, the gift of salvation won through the pain and suffering of the Cross and the bursting the bonds of death at the resurrection – we can experience God’s Jubilee in our life, we can experience freedom from all that keeps us mired in sin and death.
In Jesus God promises that we will no longer feel oppressed, as the very love and life of God grows within us.
In Jesus, God promises that our brokenness will be healed so that we too can be restored to the right relationship with our communities, right relationship with one another and most importantly right relationship with our God in heaven.
In Jesus, God promises to free us from the captivity of our self-doubt and self-loathing, from the cages we create around ourselves and others so we can live into the abundance of joy and grace that God promises in his eternal kingdom.
In Jesus, God promises that we have entered into the eternal year of the Lord’s favour, an endless Jubilee stretching into eternity.
And as a church were are called to live out this Jubilee in our life together and in our individual walks with Jesus. We are called to model our life around both the physically tangible Jubilee that Jesus inaugurated during his life and ministry but also model our lives after the cosmic world-saving Jubilee that he ushered in through his death and resurrection.
That means that on one hand, we need to work towards ameliorating the lives of our community, of the people who fall through the cracks, of the least and the lost in our midst at church but also in our surrounding neighbourhoods. Advocating for better shelter services, working towards food security, providing safe community spaces, supporting refugees fleeing persecution, admitting our mistakes and blind spots – you name it we are called to proclaim Jubilee to our neighbours.
As we do that we are ultimately called to point to the reason we do so – all of our life as a church is ultimately to point people to Jesus and the Cosmic Jubilee that God offers through him for the whole world. If as a church we haven’t done that, then we need to revisit our priorities and more closely align to the Gospel principles of grace, mercy and love for all. Despite the challenges presented by COVID-19, despite the ups and downs, we have experienced as a congregation over these last 10 years, we can still be a signpost for the world that points to Jesus, that points to the wondrous love and mercy we have received at his hands. We can still be a foretaste of the eternal Jubilee which awaits the whole world.
Let us pray.