According to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus’ public ministry begins like this.
He goes to the Jordan River to be baptized by John, just like everyone else. When he comes out of the river, the Holy Spirit appears as a dove and, Luke says, “descended upon him in bodily form.” Then, Luke says, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness” to be tested. After the forty days in the wilderness, Jesus, “filled with the power of the Spirit,” returns to Galilee and begins teaching and preaching with, according to Luke, a lot of success.
One day, he reads scripture in his hometown synagogue. He’s handed the scroll of Isaiah, the great prophet and he reads from near the end of it. “The spirit of God is on me. God has chosen me to bring good news to the poor. God’s sent me to free captives, give sight to the blind, liberate the oppressed and declare a time of restoration, rejuvenation and renewal for all creation.” He then tells everyone that what he just read has been fulfilled in their hearing.
Let’s just pause there for a minute before we come to the people’s reaction.
I believe that Jesus’ ministry is meant to show us more than just what God is capable of in Jesus: it’s meant to show us what God is capable of in us. And, of course, when I say that, I don’t mean a particular religious convention that we call “God,” I mean the life that is in all things, the love, the energy, the universal source that connects us all in that living. I mean the inherent good, creative force that inspires and move us. I mean what I think Luke means when he says “the Holy Spirit.”
I wonder if that isn’t also what Isaiah means. And why Luke tells the story in this way, constantly repeating the presence of the Spirit as Jesus begins his ministry: in his baptism, in his time of discovery in the wilderness, as he begins his ministry and as he proclaims his ministry. Jesus shows us the divinity that is in each of us, all of us. Jesus is just like us, human and divine, hoping to bring us back to God by reconnecting us with the divinity that’s in us, too. “Love one another as I have loved you” doesn’t mean that we imitate Jesus in practice, but that we connect with the spirit that is in us as well as the humanity and be Jesus in our world.
I wonder if all of this might point to Jesus proclaiming Isaiah’s words fulfilled “in your hearing” - he doesn’t say “in me” or “in what I’m about to do.” I wonder if Jesus means to tell the people that the words are fulfilled every time they’re proclaimed and, more importantly, when the spirit moves us to enact them. I wonder if this is Jesus telling us that the spirit is on all of us, we are all chosen and sent, we are all meant to live what we proclaim. It’s as if Jesus were saying the spirit of God is in all of us, let me now show you - in my ministry and in my life - how the time has come for you to live it.
That’s not easy. Or welcome, sometimes. Let’s go back to Luke’s story for a minute. Initially, the crowd is amazed at Jesus. But then they realize he’s just the son of Joseph the carpenter, he’s a local boy, and they’re indignant and offended and threaten him. Not everyone hears the message the same way. That didn’t stop Jesus from proclaiming it or living it. It shouldn’t stop us, either.