The story is told of an older couple sitting on their lanai enjoying their after dinner wine. Out of blue the wife said, “Wow, I love you!” Her husband said, “Is that you or the wine talking?” His wife replied, “Oh, that’s me, I am talking to the wine.”
Sometimes we don’t always understand what another person means when they are speaking do we? Jesus in his time here on earth spoke many times in parables and used expressions that could be taken several ways. Often Jesus had to explain what he really meant later on to his disciples. Today’s gospel reading is one of those times when what he said could be taken several different ways and it is only through the lens of time that we, his disciples, understand what he meant.
Jesus quotes from the Prophet Isaiah and says “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, or the new era, of the Lord’s favor.”
This is a section from Isaiah when the prophet is talking about the days of blessing that will happen when the Messiah comes. John the Baptizer has been telling the Jews that the Messiah is coming right away. Jesus has been working marvelous miracles in Galilee and now he is back in his hometown. Everyone is on the edge of their seats, so to speak, to hear what Jesus is going to say now. He tells them that this scripture has been fulfilled or the Greek could be understood to be saying that this scripture being inaugurated; it is begun; it is starting now in your hearing. He is saying the blessing of time of the Messiah is beginning! The Jews look around and they don’t see any armies being raised. What is Jesus talking about?
What does Jesus mean exactly? He says that he is going to bring the good news to the poor. At first glance we might think Jesus is simply talking about bringing good news to people who don’t have much or any money. But the word used is actually broader than that. Jesus is referring to those people who don’t matter, who don’t count. Jesus has a message of hope for all those people are not the important people in the world. It is just like at his birth, the angels bring the message to whom? They bring it to the shepherds, a class of people that were at the bottom of society, the unimportant and forgotten about ones.
And then what is this good news? First there is a proclamation for captives to be released. The people listening were thinking in terms of being captive under the Romans and that the Messiah would free them; he would release them. The word translated as release here is used in Luke a number of times except usually it is translated as forgiven. The people were thinking of being freed from the Romans but Jesus is thinking of being held captive by sin and being held prisoner by evil desires. Sin can so grip our lives that we are unable to break away from sinful habits of thinking and acting. And that is what He is brought to us. He brings us freedom from the captivity of sin by giving us strength and help to stop and then he brings freedom from the guilt of our having committed sin by his dying on the cross.
Secondly, Jesus talks of the recovery of sight to the blind. Certainly Jesus did heal a number of blind people, but that wasn’t his main mission. He wanted people to have a different way of looking at life. He wanted people to see who God was differently. He wanted people to understand how God intended people to live. Remember Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly.” The recovery of sight for blind people was not so much eyeballs that couldn’t see, but hearts that wouldn’t see.
Thirdly he will let the oppressed go free. The Jews listening to him were again thinking of being freed from foreign oppression and the cruelty of the occupying armies. But if we once again look at the Greek words we see him saying literally that those who have been crushed or oppressed with cruelty he will send out with forgiveness. What does he mean here? When people have been crushed and oppressed with cruelty there are some serious wounds that occur within one’s soul. What Jesus is telling them is that he will send out people who have had cruel things happen to them and he will help them to be free by being able to forgive their enemies and being able to forgive those who have oppressed them.
I heard about a man that went to see his doctor because he was feeling absolutely terrible. The doctor gave him a careful examination, left the room to look at some tests, came back in with a very somber expression on his face, and said: “Sir, I don’t know how to break the news to you, but you have rabies and you’re going to die very soon.”
The man very calmly got out a piece of paper and began to write furiously. The doctor said: “What are you doing, making out your will?” He said: “Oh no, I’m writing out a list of people I’m going to bite.”
William Willimon once said, “The human animal is not supposed to be good at forgiveness. Forgiveness is not some innate, natural human emotion. Vengeance, retribution, violence, these are natural human qualities. It is natural for the human animal to defend itself, to snarl and crouch into a defensive position when attacked, to howl when wronged, to bite back when bitten. Forgiveness is not natural. It is not a universal human virtue.” No, humans do not forgive naturally. The theologian R.C. Sproul once said, “People don’t want just to get even when they have been wronged, getting even is like kissing your sister. No, we want to hurt more than we were hurt.” Dale Hatch used an expression in his class some weeks ago, ‘collecting stamps.’ He said that some types of people, some temperament types tend to collect stamps, that is, they don’t forget what wrongs have been done to them. They carefully store them and remember them. That’s you and me isn’t it? Whatever our temperament types, it is not easy to forgive. But to be able to forgive is one of the main reasons God sent Jesus to us. To be able to have peace in our hearts through forgiveness is why we need a Messiah. And here he tells us that it is not simply the ability to forgive someone who has cut into line, or who perhaps mildly insulted you. Jesus is talking about being able to forgive serious cruelty that has been done to us. How is this possible? How can people be able to forgive another person who has cruelly hurt them? Certainly we are not able to do so by our own strength. We need God’s help through Christ.
The Jews who heard Jesus speak didn’t really understand what Jesus was really telling them, but looking backwards we see. Jesus came as the Messiah and he came especially for those of us who the world considers unimportant. And he comes to set us free from the power and guilt of sin. He comes to open our eyes to how we should be living. He wants us to see what is really important in life. And finally he wants us to be able to forgive, and be able to forgive not only the small offences but even the cruel acts done to us by others. How? How can we do these things? Jesus, the Messiah God sent will help us; we need to turn to him for help. And that, that is not just good news; it is as the angels told the shepherds, good news of great joy! Amen