“‘ . . .to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” Luke 4:19
The year of the Lord’s favour: what would the year of the Lord’s favour look like in a neighbourhood, in a church in a person’s life? Wouldn’t it look like a time of community, a time when neighbours, when church members, when families stood beside each other?
The Scripture readings today are about creating a sense of community. The reading from the Old Testament, from Nehemiah, talks about Ezra reading the Book of the Law of Moses to the people and we are told that he read from daybreak until noon in the presence of all the adults and younger people who were able to understand. They stood and listened, for six hours they stood and listened. Can you imagine someone reading from the Bible for six hours while we stood and listened? What was all this about? This was the people of Israel being reminded of who they were and how they were to live. They had received the Books of the Law from God. These books told them their story and they told them about the faith which held them together, but they had been through terrible times, including losing their land, and the Books of the Law had been lost.
They stood and listened for six hours because these books told them what their life was about and how they should live as a community. Life as a member of the community is at the heart of the life of God’s people. This reading of the Law wasn’t just about rebuilding their relationship with God, it was also about rebuilding their relationships with each other. In the Gospel reading Jesus picks up the scroll and reads from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah was trying to encourage the same community to whom Ezra would read the books of the Law, people whose community had been destroyed.
Jesus says to his listeners, ‘this is what I believe’, ‘this is what my mission is about’ and he reads:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’.
Jesus has set down the values for a Christian community, he has set down the rules by which Christians should live. Taking these words to heart, believing in the year of the Lord’s favour means starting the work of building a strong community; it means making a church, a neighbourhood, happy places to be.
Jesus comes to preach good news to the poor. Being poor is not just about money, it is about not having friends and neighbours, it is about having no-one to lean on, it is having no support and no-one to share your troubles. Some of the richest people have very little in material terms, they are rich because they are surrounded by a community that knew them and loved them.
Jesus comes to proclaim freedom for the prisoners. Look at places where there are strong communities, there is little crime. When everyone knows everyone else, there is little opportunity for crime. The highest crime rates are in cities where people become anonymous. Communities discourage crime and they nurture people who are less likely to become involved in crime. If you live in a community where people care about you and where you are respected you haven’t the motivation to break all the ties that mean so much to you.
Jesus comes to proclaim recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed. How important it is just to know that there is another person who cares enough just to be there. There are 101 things, little things, that can be done to support those who suffer or who feel oppressed by their circumstances, just picking up the ‘phone or knocking at the door can make a difference.
This is not ambitious, this is not a grand scheme, this is what life is like in a community.
I once lived close to the little fishing port of Ardglass. Occasionally there would be nets on the harbour wall for repair. Each strand of the net seemed small, but each was important. If a strand was not in place the net would begin to tear and would become useless. Building a community is like making a net, each person is a strand, each strand is important, without each strand, the whole net falls apart.
Jesus came to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. When there is a community, when there is a sense of belonging, a sense that all are cared for, a sense that life is worth something, then there is a sense of the Lord’s favour. Proclaiming the Lord’s favour, proclaiming Jesus’ presence among them, is something that Christians should choose.