I am sure you were all as impressed as I was by the State Funeral of our late Queen Elizabeth II. Equally impressive were the proclamations that announced the accession of our new King, Charles III. We look forward to his Coronation in May next year and we all wish him a long and prosperous reign.
Keeping the word ‘proclamation’ in mind, I turn to today’s Gospel reading when Jesus, in his first synagogue sermon, proclaims, as it is written in the Book of the prophet Isaiah, that he will ‘release the captives, recover sight to the blind and let the oppressed go free’. He is, in effect, proclaiming himself rather than being proclaimed. Proclaiming himself as a teacher and a liberator, anointed by the Spirit of the Lord to bring ‘good news to the poor’.
At first, when they heard this proclamation, the people in the synagogue spoke well of Jesus but then began to wonder why the son of Joseph the carpenter should be able to make this proclamation. Who does he think he is? What I believe is happening here is that in this Gospel passage we see a revolutionary reversal of what people expect when a monarch is enthroned to rule over them. Surely the Messiah, who has been promised to them as a Saviour, would be clothed in majesty and be of grand, not humble, origin. Surely he would be proclaimed, not the proclaimer? Surely he will be served, not serving?
It will be seen from the text that follows today’s Gospel reading that distrust turns to rage as Jesus says that the Gentiles too will receive God’s mercy. Enraged because, as one Commentary on Luke expresses it, it was assumed by those present that salvation was for the Jews only, as given in Isaiah chapter 61 that is interpreted by Jesus in his proclamation. There is perhaps one regal moment in the text when the attendant hands Jesus the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. We could add that as a King or Queen is anointed at their Coronation so Jesus is ‘anointed by the Spirit of the Lord’. None of this was sufficient, it appears, to satisfy the crowd.
So we have a revolution here in terms of what a ruler should be. The Old Testament kings went to war but Jesus is offering healing and unity. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, it is a call to people to live in harmony with one another, rich and poor alike. You could say that revolutions turn things around and there are plenty of examples of this happening in the New Testament. Jesus turns the Sabbath on its head when he says that the Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath. He throws over the tables of the money changers in the Temple and calls upon people to love their enemies.
Turning things around has its origins in the Old Testament. In Isaiah chapter 45 we read the words of God: ‘turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God and there is no other’. In our worship today we are called upon to turn to face the altar to worship God. Unfortunately, this turning around to view life from a new perspective falls on deaf ears in the synagogue when Jesus speaks.
No matter, as we as Christians have faith in God’s covenant with us that he will never abandon us. This is revealed in the Old Testament when, as Nehemiah writes, the Israelites disobey God and kill his prophets but God forgives them more than once in his mercy, grace and covenant. In the New Testament, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus offers us freedom from sin.
Returning to the nature of monarchy, although it is not obvious from the splendour of a coronation in today’s world and the ceremonies and pageantry that surround the monarch, if we look closer we can find that which very much relates to the Christian life. There is the anointing of the monarch at the Coronation by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the regular attendance at church and in the first words of the National Anthem it is God who saves the monarch. Service is at the very heart of royal duty, and working for the betterment of the world. The difference, though, in the life of Jesus, is that God made himself poor that we could become rich. Rich not in wealth but in mental and spiritual prosperity.
At the moment, in the current cost of living crisis, no-one is feeling prosperous on any level, mentally, financially or spiritually. There is the feeling of everything worldwide being in a downward spiral with war, climate change and economic difficulties. We can take comfort though in the knowledge that Jesus too was caught in a downward spiral by being brought low, crucified, and laid in a tomb but then he rose again to sit at the right hand of God. It is this triumph over adversity of a terrible kind that we can look to as our hope for the future because it demonstrates the fact that no matter how wrong footed we are God has the final word. This final word is the triumph of light over darkness.
Keeping this promise of the light in mind, we can turn to God and pray for better times and trust in his everlasting forgiveness and love for us all. This will give us the strength to persevere and to help others less fortunate than ourselves. When the strong protect the weak this demonstrates our faith in the future and our trust in God’s promise to us of the glory to come.