Sermon from January 23: The Year of the Lord’s Favor
The Year of the Lord’s Favor
Epiphany III; January 23, 2022
Last Sunday’s story told us some important things about Jesus; this story does too. This story also tells us something important about us.
It was the Sabbath, the day to go to shul, so Jesus was there. Luke makes a point of saying it was the custom of Jesus to go, since Jesus could find any number of excuses not to go. Luke, no doubt, was familiar with all the excuses people use not to go to church, so he points out that Jesus was in the custom of going, regardless. Anyway. Although a synagogue of the time would have a person who was in charge of running the service, the chazan, it didn’t necessarily have a regular preacher. So the Chazan might ask a visiting dignitary or a leading citizen to read Scripture and interpret it. Jesus was from Nazareth, and he was building a reputation around Galilee, so they asked him to read and preach.
By the way, that’s one place where the Old Testament reading (Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10) connects with this reading. Ezra read the Book of the Law to the people; he read it in Hebrew. Scattered among the crowd were a bunch of learned interpreters (their names are in verse 7, which we skipped) who translated what Ezra read into Aramaic and possibly added a helpful comment or two. Likewise, Jesus read the Scripture in Hebrew and then began to interpret it for his hearers in their language, Aramaic.
Jesus selected a reading from Isaiah 61 and, saying “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” applied it to himself. In other words, Jesus claimed that this prophecy from Isaiah was for him. Whether the Prophet knew it or not, Jesus fulfilled the words of the prophecy. He was saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” and that the Lord had anointed “me” and that he, Jesus, was the one who would bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, and that he would proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
That’s Jesus’ personal mission statement. Some experts say that you and I will have more fulfilling, more meaningful lives if we have a personal mission statement. If you want to do that, you don’t have to make it up yourself; you can quote someone, as Jesus quoted Isaiah. Our church has a mission statement, to “seek Jesus Christ everywhere, every day, in everyone.” You knew that, I hope. Well, Jesus’ personal mission statement is to do all these things from Isaiah, concluding with “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
I admit that I fixated on that phrase, perhaps because we’re still early in the year, and we have no idea what this year is going to be like. It’s almost as though 2021 didn’t happen, but 2020 was two years long; we pray that it won’t be three years long. If we start the year with the idea that it is the year of the Lord’s favor, then what does that mean? It’s a nice phrase, right? “The year of the Lord’s favor.” But what does that mean?
I did what any responsible Presbyterian preacher does: I looked it up in the Hebrew that Jesus read and the Greek that Luke wrote. In both cases, it means “the year of the Lord’s acceptance.” That is, the year of the Lord’s welcome, the year the Lord receives the Lord’s people; I’ll say it again: the year of the Lord’s acceptance. Jesus proclaims the year that the Lord takes the world into the divine arms and holds it close. That can be this year, can’t it?
Several other things go with that: helping the blind to see, releasing the captives, freeing the oppressed, bringing good news to the poor. Jesus did do all those things and so he did indeed fulfill the prophecy from Isaiah. But look where the quotation started. Jesus quoted the Prophet’s first line, saying that the Lord had anointed him to do all this. When did that happen? When he was baptized. And what’s something you and I have in common with Jesus? We are baptized. And just to drive the point home, when Harper is baptized today, she will be anointed.
Even though our Session has given us a good, pithy mission statement – to seek Christ everywhere, every day, in everyone – Jesus has given his entire Church a mission statement: to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Harper is about to become part of that mission, just as you and I became part of that mission when we were baptized.
Some folks get irritated when they hear about one of our members advocating for the people of Palestine, but if we are anointed to proclaim release to the captives, isn’t that part of our mission? Others may wish we didn’t talk about advocacy for public policy that would relieve the burdens of the poor – they’re fine with feeding the poor, but don’t talk about ways to reduce systemic poverty – but if we are anointed to bring good news to the poor, isn’t that part of our mission? Many are trying to forbid the teaching of systemic racism and the truth about the history of racism in our country, and get irritated when we Christians say that Black Lives Matter, but if we are anointed to let the oppressed go free, isn’t that part of our mission?
I would say, “There, I have stepped on a lot of toes” but the truth is that Jesus has stepped on a lot of toes. He claimed that this was his mission. Since the Church is the Body of Christ, then his mission is our mission. That’s what you’re in for when you sign on with Jesus and when you bring your children to sign on with Jesus.
You and I are part of Christ’s mission to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, the year of the Lord’s welcome, the year of the Lord’s acceptance. Let me push at this just a bit more before I stop. It is a commonplace among the majority culture in our country to talk about “tolerance,” about the need to tolerate people who are different from us: different colors, different ethnicities, different gender identities and sexualities. We must tolerate them, they say. Well, think about that word: tolerance. What does it mean to tolerate something? It means to put up with it; it means that it is an irritant, a pain, perhaps a disease that must simply be tolerated. But that’s not what Isaiah or Jesus said, in Hebrew or in Greek: this is the year of the Lord’s favor, the Lord’s welcome, the Lord’s acceptance. People deserve more than simply to be tolerated; they deserve to be accepted.
That is our mission. Especially this year; this is the year of the Lord’s favor.
Robert A Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master
 Hebrew (Isaiah 61:2) ratson; Greek dektos (from dechomai: to receive, approve, accept)