Jesus’s reading of Isaiah in his first sermon in Nazareth is tied to the proclamation of the angels in 2:14 and Peter’s speech in Acts 10:35. The word that connects the three passages is the word for acceptable or favor. The same word is used in this passage and in the Acts speech. A related word is used in the proclamation of the angels. The people who are pleasing to God (to whom the birth of the baby will be good news), the year that is pleasing to God, and the ones to whom God shows no partiality—all are given content by this quotation from Isaiah. It encapsulates the mission of God as Jesus understands it. The poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed are the ones Jesus’s mission will save. Those who understand and support this mission, whether or not they themselves are in these categories, are those with whom God is pleased. In that sense, salvation is a corporate adventure. We are saved not only as individuals but also as we exist in community with the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed.
It is not Jesus’s reading of the text from Isaiah, nor is it the association he makes between the acceptable year of the Lord and the Jubilee, that turns the crowd at the synagogue in Nazareth into a mob. It is Jesus’s proclamation that the pleasure or favor of God extends beyond the boundaries of Israel. The people of Nazareth are filled with wrath and throw him out of the synagogue. But expulsion is not enough. They sweep him along with them to the crest of a hill, the hill upon which their city is built, with the intent to cast him over it.
We notice the odd parallel to the third temptation. Once again, Jesus is vulnerable at the top of a precipice. On the temple precipice, he was surrounded by nothingness. Here he is likewise surrounded, but by a sea of pressing, hostile bodies—well-known and beloved though some of those bodies may have been.
Changeless and ever-changing God:
In the loveliness of this late winter morning,
with its gentle light and warming winds,
we celebrate transition:
The difficulty of it—snow and cold hanging on despite inevitability.
The shy determination of it—bulbs bursting from the depths
and working their way unseen to the surface.
Hanging on and bursting forth: help us, O Lord.
Help us learn your grace,
that we might not hold on too tightly
or be too shy to leave the comforts of the depths.
Help us learn, like the people of Nazareth,
that the good news for us is really only good news
when we recognize the scope of the vision.
We pray in the name of the one who came to release the captives
and give sight to the blind, Amen.