Beloved, we love God because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a sister or brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God, and everyone who loves the Father loves also the one begotten by him. In this way we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.
O God, give your judgement to the king,
to a king’s son your justice,
that he may judge your people in justice
and your poor in right judgement.
From oppression he will rescue their lives,
to him their blood is dear.
They shall pray for him without ceasing
and bless him all the day.
May his name be blessed for ever
and endure like the sun.
Every tribe shall be blessed in him,
All nations bless his name.
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news of him spread throughout the whole region. He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all. He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.
Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.
Nowhere else, except during the Last Supper, does Jesus so clearly express his purpose in life as in the Scripture-based manifesto that he spoke in his home-town synagogue in Nazareth. When called to the rostrum to read from the Scriptures and say a word of inspiration and guidance, he chose a key text from Isaiah to sum up exactly what he himself wanted to achieve, as a preacher and healer.
He must have known this prophecy well, for Luke remarks that Jesus unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…’ He must have heard it read and made it his own by frequent meditation. It conveys the same deep, hope-filled spirituality found in Our Lady’s Magnificat, about joy and freedom and justice, and the divine power that will bring freedom to all who are oppressed. What a gracious God is there portrayed, a God who anoints with the Spirit, in order to bring joy and fullness of life to the poor, the captives and the blind. No wonder the villagers were impressed and delighted, to think that such a new day was dawning.
But it’s hard to move from dreaming about renewal to achieving it in the real world. So it was for Jesus. Soon after applauding him, they turned sharply against him and drove him out of Nazareth. This prepares us for the opposition he met later from Scribes, Pharisees and the Jerusalem priesthood as he tries to spread his message. His ideal of freedom, sharing and fraternity, and of loosening up their hidebound, hierarchical structures was anathema to the priveleged few. Ultimately it led to his rejection and execution in the darkness of the hill of Calvary.
Even during his crucifixion, indeed there more than ever (as St Luke shows, Lk 23:45), the Spirit of the Lord was still with Jesus, giving sight to the blind and letting the oppressed go free. His life’s mission, announced in the Nazareth Synagogue and continued in many places over the next three years, reached its climax of completion in his sacrificial death, about which each of us can say “He loved me, and gave himself for me!” (Gal 2:20)
Jesus had told them in a nutshell what would be his future life-work. He would proclaim the grace of God, the Father’s mercy towards all, especially to those who were usually neglected, the poor, the captives, the blind and disabled, the downtrodden. But the post-script to this good news was that miracles would be rare and unpredictable. This was not well received by his neighbours. By the time he finished speaking they were ready to throw him down over the edge of a cliff. It seems as if Jesus’ vision of God was just too big for the villagers, too hospitable, too welcoming, too forgiving, too all embracing, too generous. He challenges our image of God too. But he also has the power to transform us, enrich us in our poverty, bring us freedom where we were captive, enlighten our blindness, restore our sense of belonging to God, regardless of our past.