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January 27, 2019

Jesus’ Job Description

Isaiah 61:1-4; Luke 4:14-21

 

 

When I got my first real job at Sears and Roebuck back during the Christmas season in 1979. I was hired on as extra help for the holiday rush and told that some of us would be kept on if we proved our worth. I was given a training manual with a list of job requirements that needed to be fulfilled in order to work there. I wore a dress shirt, tie and name tag every day I went to work. I learned about what it meant to be an employee of Sears. I went through a training session with the assistant manager at the store, learned how to run the cash register, learned that the customer is always right (even when they are insane and driving you nuts), and was assigned to be in the sporting, toy, camera, and garden department. I had to learn about a bunch of very diverse items all put together in one department, and the toy department at Christmas time was crucial for sales. Thanks to following my job description and training, once the holiday rush was over, I was informed that I would be kept on, which eventually enabled me to pay off my 1974 Firebird. So, I went from high school graduate to the profession of retail, as a courtesy clerk. I worked at Sears throughout most of my college days, for 5 years, and truly enjoyed my time there, all because I knew my job and did it well. Reading through and learning the job description helped.

 

In today’s passage from Luke, Jesus makes a bold statement in the synagogue in Nazareth, which in effect becomes his job description. He had just returned from 40 days of temptation in the wilderness and was full of the Spirit. It was an ordinary Sabbath day when Jesus came to the synagogue. He was in Nazareth, his hometown going to services with his family, his neighbors, and his childhood friends. Nothing could have been more natural. The people sat on plain wooden benches. There was a raised platform at one end of the room. The service was simple. Prayers were said, scriptures read and commented on, and a collection was taken for the poor. Jesus had been away doing a bit of teaching and preaching, and people in the area had good things to say about him. Now he was home. As was custom, different teachers were asked to read scripture during worship, and then comment. The leaders of the synagogue asked Jesus to read and comment on Isaiah 61:1-2, the passage for the day. He was both the lay reader and the preacher for the day. What could be more natural than to ask him to read the scripture and to say a few words? They handed him the Isaiah scroll. He read a few verses, and they settled in to hear what he had to say, expecting a sermon. They were expecting to go home commenting on what a fine job Mary and Joseph’s boy had done.

 

But Jesus did not give a three-point sermon on the meaning of the text. He read from Isaiah: “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 freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Isaiah’s prophecy of hope, that a messiah would one day come and lead the people echoed through the synagogue. Then he sat down, rolled up the scroll, and proclaimed to those gathered, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,” – a sermon which was brief and to the point! (I know you long for those…sorry. This ISN’T one of them).

 

In effect, Jesus told the worshipers, “All of these words that Isaiah prophesied about have come to pass with my arrival here. I will do these things, and I am in fact the one he prophesied about.”

 

Remember, this congregation lived during Roman oppression in a time of widespread poverty, taxation, social inequality, demonic possession, sickness, and violence. This was a bold statement. Bold statements like this don’t mean much if they aren’t fulfilled. Jesus promised a lot in this job description. So let us take a closer look at this bold proclamation, and see how well it was fulfilled.

 

Did Jesus meet all of his job requirements? We begin with the statement that Jesus would preach good news to the poor. Jesus preached good news to the poor by lifting them up- giving to the needy in Matthew, (Matthew 6:2-4), calling the rich young ruler to give all he had to the poor(Matthew 19:16-21), using a destitute widow who gives a small amount to the temple as a heroine of the faith(Luke 21:1-4). Jesus brought good news to many poor people like the hungry crowds on the hillside whom he fed with bread and fish. He showed them that God wants everyone to have enough to eat. This is the one of whom his mother sang, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, he has lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”(Luke 1:53) Jesus even identified with the poor himself, when in Matthew (25:31-46), he said, “Whatever you do for the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you do for me.” Job well done. Check.

 

How then did Jesus proclaim freedom for those imprisoned? Jesus brought release to those imprisoned in different ways. Some were held captive by demons of the mind like the Gerasene Demoniac. Others were held captive to a mat by paralysis. Still, others were captive to their own greed for money like Zacchaeus. Jesus set them all free. Check.

What about the blind? How did Jesus help them? Blindness was a significant problem in antiquity. The blind often suffered not only from the ravages of blindness but also poverty. Many blind people were reduced to begging. The physically blind received sight through the ministry of Jesus, such as the blind man sitting by the side of the road, or the man born blind from birth (e.g. Luke 7:21; 18:35; John chapter 9). But Jesus didn’t just heal physical blindness. He also healed spiritual blindness. The classic illustration of such blindness is Saul. Saul, who was spiritually blind, actually became physically blinded by the Risen Jesus as part of his call on the road to Damascus - but was then made to see again, this time both physically AND spiritually. Jesus brought sight to the blind. Sometimes he did this literally, sometimes spiritually. But he opened the eyes of everyone he taught to look at their lives and this world in a new and different light. Sounds like he did his job there as well.

 

Did Jesus fulfill his promise to the oppressed? The oppressed were many in Jesus’ day- the poor, women, the widow, the leper, the lame, children- all were oppressed in some way, and all were exalted in Jesus’ ministry. Women and children in those days were seen as property with no rights. Here are a few examples of Jesus freeing the oppressed - Jesus brought freedom to the oppressed woman who was trapped in a life where people used and despised her and at the same time labeled her the sinner, until she came to him and washed his feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair and he lifted her to her feet again and told her about love and grace. (Luke 7:38) Then there is the story of the woman at the well or the woman caught in adultery.

 

Jesus welcomed the children, saying, “Whoever welcomes a little child on my behalf is welcoming me.” Jesus used children as an example of faith when he said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”(Mat. 18: 1-5) Jesus even said the kingdom of heaven BELONGS to children. (Luke 18 15-17) Jesus fulfilled his job here as well.

 

Finally, Jesus mentions the acceptable year of the Lord (“the year of the Lord’s favor”). How did he fulfill this promise? This is the Jubilee, that occasion every fifty years when the land in Israel was to be returned to its original owners when everyone’s debt was forgiven, and all captives would be freed. Jesus forgave those who were captive to sin and proclaimed their freedom and ours in his death upon the cross. This was perhaps the most important aspect of his job description, and he broke the bonds of death and sin in fulfilling it.

 

 

So, we have to say, “Job well done!” Jesus. This job was one that really did change lives and has changed this world for the better for centuries. We, who call ourselves Christian, are to follow Christ’s example and live out his way of life. C.S Lewis wrote, “Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.” That means Jesus’ job description applies to us as well.

 

One major difference in my Sears analogy job description and our job description here as Christians is this - When I was done for the day or evening at Sears, I would go home take off my tie, dress shirt, and nametag, and no longer be a sales clerk. I no longer needed to do my job. But for us, we are called to bring good news to the poor, release those held captive, recovery of sight to those who are blind, free the oppressed, and proclaim freedom once we head out those doors at home, at work, out in the community, and in the world 24/7.

 

There is no time off, and there is so much work to be done- so much poverty, locally and globally, so many held captive by sin and so many literally held captive in places like our own border; so many blinded from the glory of God’s creation and presence; so many oppressed people due to their race or class or sexual orientation; so many needing to be freed from debt to others, or unfair financial burdens. Through our words and actions, may the poor may hear good news, those in bondage find freedom, those who are blind be enabled to see, the oppressed be given justice, and the Lord’s favor be proclaimed, so when all is said and done in this life, and we finally see Christ face to face, he can say to us, “You followed my job description. Well done, good and faithful servant.” Alleluia! Amen.

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