Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing

Gill Sakakini
Sunday, October 23, 2016 - 9:30am

Sermon - Proper 25 - Bible Sunday

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”   

Well, I’m only just a few weeks into my ordination training at St Mellitus College in London and I have already been given a research project to tackle. Don’t worry, you are not the subject of it – at least not all of you! Reading about research, and ploughing through theological texts is taking some adjusting to. The words mostly seem familiar enough, but the way they appear on the pages in complex clauses often makes them inaccessible. By way of example: 

“Is the recollection of God’s revelation on which the venture of Church proclamation is ventured this kind of recollection?”

So I read them again - and again, praying that I willmake sense of the text and see how it translates to real life! It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that I’m finding myself drawn to a discipline known as “Practical Theology”. This describes itself as theory and practice and it’s concerned with proclaiming the gospel not only with one’s mind, but with the whole of one’s being. In other words “it does not simply seek after knowledge for the sake of knowledge, but instead aims to increase knowledge and understanding of God, and enable us to live loving and faithful lives”. It’s about solid theology in real situations, in real contexts. 

In today’s gospel passage we encounter Jesus in a particular context, one that is very familiar to him – in fact, he’s back on home turf in Galilee and he is about to worship God with people who remember him growing up there. While a few eyebrows are raised as to whether this is indeed is Joseph’s son, they later can’t deny that he speaks well and are amazed at the “gracious words” that come out of his mouth. Luke tells us that Jesus arrived in Galilee “filled with the power of the Holy Spirit” and in fact, in the previous chapter Jesus had been baptised in the Jordan where  the presence of the Holy Spirit as a dove, and audible words from heaven confirmed his identity as the beloved Son of God. This was swiftly followed by a honing of his identity in the wilderness, where he was both led and sustained by the Spirit. It’s there that Jesus demonstrates his training in the Hebrew scriptures by declaring them to refute Satan’s taunts, knowledge he no doubt acquired from regular attendance at the synagogue, as Luke mentions.  

The way the synagogue scene unfolds in our reading today puts me in mind of stage directions in a play script: [Jesus stands up, Jesus is given the scroll, unrolls the scroll, finds the place, reads, rolls up the scroll, returns it]. How understated these seem, given what happens next!I imagine the slow action of unrolling the scroll only served to build anticipation among the listeners. Jesus begins:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me … 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 of the Lord’s favour.”

Those gathered are familiar with Isaiah’s words, this is what they, the servant people of Israel are meant to look like, bringing light and illumination to a waiting world, but Jesus announces that these words refer to himself! 

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.

Is this not “Practical Theology” right in their midst? This is not simply about unrolling a scroll – this is about Jesus, himself the Word, coming right off the vellum, rolling out his ministry and mission! God’s kingdom has finally come to Israel, and through his own “communicative practices” (theology term), Jesus will begin the business of speaking deeply into bleak lives, touching the bereft, and sealing hope and freedom in the hearts and minds of his people. 

These same words, enfleshed by Jesus, also launch and encapsulate priestly vocation and, as such, were chosen and read by Sarah at her ordination. And we, the baptised, we are called to participate in the vocation of Jesus too. As Pope Francis says in his book about the Good News, (that some of us referred to during Lent this year): “Right at the heart of our faith in Christ is a call to follow him in his care for the poor and the outcast … which requires an entirely new outlook which thinks in terms of community …” Yes, words look and sound different once they’re off the scroll and declared aloud because they exist differently in the breath that we share together. They become dynamic, living and active. Paul says, “Each of us must please our neighbour for the good purpose of building up the neighbour.”  I take this to mean that as words translate into the shape of listening, the shape of helping a colleague with a computer issue, the shape of offering a lift, or the shape of buying items for the Food Bank, we grow as a healing church, and we participate in unrolling of the Kingdom of God that little bit further. 

Like my search for the deeper meaning of generally familiar words in complicated texts, this well-known lad from Nazareth sheds a whole new light on what it means to live loving and faithful lives by personifying the words on the scroll. As we look at and listen to words of scripture, together, alone, or on the Pilgrim Course, let’s come with curiosity and fresh vision expecting their meaning to resonate with us. As they become embedded in our hearts and we journey with them, we journey with Jesus and will find we are anointed afresh for God’s mission in the world. 

Embodied Action          

The curious among you will have already investigated something that resembles a miniature scroll by the kneelers in front of you. If you can’t locate one please put up your hand and one will come to you!

  • I invite you, prayerfully, if you’d like, to take it and begin to slowly unroll it.
  • In the quiet of your heart read the word that appears. 
  • Reflect a moment on any meaning it may have for you this morning.
  • Now unroll it a little further into the blank space.
  • Imagine ways in which this word could be a focus for your prayers this week. Or, reflect on how it may be rolled out in embodied action in this neighbourhood and beyond.