The Rev. Jon Roberts
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee, and a report concerning him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Christ Blessing the World, Les Très Riches Heures, Duc de Berry
c.1334, Folio 188r
All men are created equal,
But we all don't feel that way.
This is not said to be feeble nor lend excuse to our many differences; but, rather, it is said to preach good news to the poor; To proclaim the release of captives; To give sight back to the blind; To set free those who are oppressed and to proclaim the acceptable year in which the Lord came to us. This is a great day to rejoice, to see that we are equal for there are times when we act poorly are held captive and go about this world in blindness. It is good news, indeed, to see and to hear, that there is something that keeps us all together. This is evident in our prayers, as we ask for God's blessing to be upon all of those who we love. There is something in common shared among the poor, the captive, the blind, the oppressed and to all feel they are denied privilege. Something is beyond their reach, and they feel they have no access to it; Prosperity, freedom, sight, and dignity. How terrible it must feel to be denied such things.
It was like this for little Kelly. She was a clever little girl. She was an acolyte and served faithfully in church. Anyone who knows anything about acolyting understands that consistency is important. It's also important not to stand out. That's why they are uniform. They wear a white vestment. Shoes are normally inconspicuous. Hair is done up and out of the way. They stand straight and tall. They don't goof off. Kelly knew all this and she was a perfect acolyte. Well, on one particular Sunday she decided she had to do something different. She went through all the usual steps, processing at the beginning of church and at the gospel. She bowed when the name of Jesus was pronounced in the prayers. She knelt for confession. It was when the priest began Holy Communion that she waited to insert her change. The priest elevated the sacrament and Kelly crossed herself but when the priest took the host and made the sign of the cross over the chalice, he lifted it up before all and said the words, "By him, and with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit all honor and glory is yours, Almighty Father, now and forever." "AND ALL GIRLS", shouted Kelly at once. Everyone shot a confused look in her direction, but the priest continued unhindered. Afterwards, the priest kindly went over to Kelly and asked, "Kelly, why on earth did you respond at communion with 'All Girls'?" "Simple", she said. "I just got tired, every Sunday, of the same response, as everyone prays for 'All Men'."
No one likes to be left out. Jesus knows this better than anyone. He speaks to all people. He loves 'em all. It doesn't matter if they're yellow, black or white, they are all precious in his sight. Those who come to the Rite I service hear something in the Prayers that are not heard in Rite II. It reads as follows: "Almighty and everlasting God, who in thy holy Word hast taught us to make prayers, and supplications, and to give thanks for All men:" Make no mistake, Jesus came for all mankind.
Early on this was seen, as both men and women came to the water gate listening to Ezra read from the book. Surrounded by representatives from the twelve tribes of Israel, He spoke to the poor, the captive, the blind and the oppressed. Remember, the people of Israel had been scattered across the Persian and Babylonian empires had been enslaved and were poor. Their resources were few and far between. All they wanted to do, was to turn inward and mourn for their losses. But Nehemiah, the governor and Ezra the priest, were instructed by God to deliver them. It was time for them to rebuild and to unify a broken people. A people who felt they were excluded from God's will. It was the book of the Law, the law of God, that spoke to them and brought them back to whom they were and to whom they belonged.
Paul speaks in the same manner. He uses the analogy of the body. If we are all baptized into one body, we the members, must see the importance of needing each other. But it goes beyond the simple need for one another. We don't exist merely for common fellowship and affection towards one another. No, there is something else.
We are bound by rules that govern us, and we are bound by the one who rules over all the world. In our gospel today, Jesus comes out of the wilderness. There he was tempted greatly by the devil. Tempted, whereas, all other men would have fallen. After the angels comfort him he returns to Nazareth. On the Sabbath day he walks into the Synagogue, perhaps once where he was himself an acolyte and now he goes up at the appropriate time and does something perhaps off script. He turns to the section of Isaiah, we know as the sixty first chapter. He reads it. He reads it like it had never been heard before. His blessing, his promise is upon the whole world, for no one to be denied salvation, as long as we truly turn to Him. "Keep my commandments", says the Lord. With conviction and clarity. Luke says, "all the eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him." Eyes that had been poor in spirit and blind. Jesus speaks so that all men, despite how they feel about their sorrow will know that they are all equal and precious in His sight. All men…and even All girls.