Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. Today. Not tomorrow, not yesterday, but today. What exactly did Jesus mean by this? How is scripture fulfilled? What makes today any more special than any other day?
When I think about that question, all I can think about is the old saying, “live today like it was your last” or something along those lines. And so I thought maybe there is more wisdom in some “today” sayings that might apply to the topic at hand, and perhaps shed some light on the importance of Jesus saying “today”. I did a quick search and found a bunch of good stuff, and here are some that stood out to me:
Chills. Literal chills. The main thing I see here is basically the same: live life today, because today is all you got. No regrets. Don’t live in the “if only’s” and “what if’s”. You can’t do anything about yesterday, and you might not have tomorrow, so do what you can today. Reminds me of Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society, “Carpe Diem”… seize the day. And really, all that makes sense… on paper. Practically speaking it isn’t all that easy to live today like you had no tomorrow because today has its own sets of issues.
I mean, today I’m still recovering from the lack of sleep from yesterday. Today the world is scary out there and I’d rather just stay safe in my comfort zone. Today I have a million and one excuses why I should just pretend that today isn’t really today and that I’ll always have tomorrow. But mostly, today, I just don’t feel like it.
And so maybe it makes sense that we have all those sayings to motivate or scare or get you up and at them, precisely because that attitude of “I don’t feel like it today” is more common than not. But is that what Jesus is doing here? Trying to give a motivational speech to get people excited to take on the world? If so, he failed miserably as we’ll see part 2 of this episode in next week’s readings. Spoiler alert: they try to throw him off a cliff. So I wonder if that was really what Jesus meant by saying “today”. I would think that he’d be more successful if he were actually giving good news instead being chased by a lynch mob. But then, he was ultimately crucified for his message so I guess anything is possible.
But to really understand what Jesus was trying to say here, we’ll need to break down the whole thing a bit. As we know, Jesus is at church, and I guess he had his name down on the sign up sheet for lector that day. Well, realistically if you remember last week’s sermon, Mary probably signed Jesus up for him…
Either case, it was Jesus’ turn to read and he got the scroll of Isaiah. We don’t know if Jesus chose what he read or it was just the lectionary for the day, but we do know that he read what he read, of course, because we just read about how he read what he read. We should note that the book Isaiah is kind of like the cream of the crop when it comes to Old Testament scripture, or in Jesus’ time, they just called it “scripture”. No other book is quoted or used as much in the New Testament, or in Jesus’ time, they just called it “now”. To this day, it is highly revered for its beautiful language, richness of content, and hard hitting messages that open your eyes to the realities of life but also fills you with hope with God’s promises and providence.
I mean, the part that he read was legit pretty beautiful, the part where Isaiah was saying that Spirit of God anointed him to bring good news, proclaim freedom and healing, and herald in the year of the Lord’s favour. That sounds awesome. Especially now in the times we find ourselves, we could use a little refreshing good news instead of the everyday racism, bigotry, and privileged actions of the 1% that is all we hear about now. We should note that the whole book of Isaiah as we have it is often seen as a combination of 2-3 books in chronological order. The first section seems to be more judgement because Israel is acting poorly, then the second is filled with more hope-inspiring words for Israel while they are suffering in exile, when perhaps they feel like they are being punished because of that first part, and the third (if you consider there to be a third) is after exile as the people are reconciling with each other and regaining their identity. Perhaps in a way to “Make Israel Great Again” type thing.
So this passage that Jesus read comes out of chapter 61 of Isaiah, near the end of the book. This means that it comes at the time of reconciliation after Israel got theirs, the point where they see redemption happening but perhaps still sore from the exile, possibly at the brink of the year of Jubilee.
What is this Jubilee you ask? Why, it’s the street directly west of the church, of course. But also, the year of Jubilee is in Jewish custom every 50th year. That is, as you know, every 7th day there is a Sabbath, every 7th year there is a Sabbath year (like the sabbatical I had not too long ago), and just after every 7th 7-year cycle, so right after the 49th year, which would be the 50th year, is the year of Jubilee. And what happens during that time? The giant reset button is pushed. All who were slaves are no longer slaves, but they are set free. All who lost their property for a variety of reasons gets it back. All who owe money don’t owe it any more. All are liberated, redeemed, and made whole again in this year of the Lord’s favour. What an awesome tradition, am I right?
And this is what Isaiah is talking about in chapter 61, and what a great way to get Israel back on track as they are putting their lives back together from the exile. What a great way to have faith in humanity restored as they are forced to give you back your stuff and your freedom. What a great way to feel healing and being made whole again, to feel redemption because things are the back to the way they rightfully are to be, and to feel loved that there is even a thing in place that is designed to help with the healing, wholeness, and redemption.
The thing with this Jubilee though is that it only happens every 50 years. So there could be a lot of people who either didn’t even live the whole 50 years or find themselves at a stage of life where it is irrelevant, meaning not everyone could enjoy the Jubilee year, which would be kind of a rip. And 50 years is a lot of time to truly ruin relationships, communities, and people’s lives before redemption comes.
And perhaps we from our positions of North American privilege might think bah, every 50 years is enough. Be happy that you have it at all, don’t feel so entitled. Once every 50 years should be enough to tie you over.
Really? You know it was like 11 and half years ago that I pledged to love my wife for as long as I live. Do you think we would have lasted these 11 and a half years if we didn’t remind each other of that from time to time? And don’t you think that our relationship would be even stronger if we reminded each other more often… like say… daily? In all honesty I do try to tell my wife that I love her every day, not just to remind her that I do, but also to remind myself that I do… because I tell ya some of those days…
So wouldn’t it be great if this year of Jubilee happened more often than every 50 years? Wouldn’t it be great if the year of the Lord’s favour would definitely happen in your lifetime, at a time when you could enjoy it and feel the healing and wholeness that it brings? Wouldn’t it be nice if this redemption, this amazing act of grace and mercy, this boundless love… would happen today?
That is what Jesus is saying here with this text. Today, it is fulfilled. Today is the day that we, as God’s people, are anointed to proclaim healing and freedom. Today begins the year of our Lord’s favour, as it did back when Jesus read this, as it did every day since then until now, as it will from today and every day. Today, God tells us that we are and will always be God’s dearly beloved children.
I think Jesus was intentional in saying “today”, present tense. He means that this is happening, not has happened or will happen, but is happening. Today, let us be reminded of God’s promise of healing, of freedom, of love. Today, let us look at the world not as hopeless and awful, but full of possibility and redemption. Today, let us see how the Spirit of God has anointed us to proclaim good news to all people, that all are full of value and worth and are invited and welcomed into God’s kingdom of grace and mercy.
Today, God anoints us. Today, we are gifted with skills and talents to do God’s work. Today, God says “I love you just as you are, unique, flawed, and made to be perfect. You belong.”
And that’s the thing. Jesus isn’t trying to scare us into action by saying there might be no tomorrow. Jesus isn’t trying to protect us from regret and “if only’s”. Jesus isn’t trying to just motivate us to live today to its fullest. Rather, Jesus is reminding us that the year of Jubilee isn’t a year that happens every 50 years, but is perpetual and daily. Jesus is telling us that the year of the Lord’s favour isn’t just a one-time deal but continually welcomes us and restores us. Jesus is showing us that we are anointed, we are called, we are included in God’s family as the body of Christ, acting as God’s hands and feet in the world, acting for justice, serving for peace, and proclaiming God’s good news for all people.
This is the day. Today. God has called you. God has empowered you. God has brought you up full of grace, mercy, and blessing.
I’ll leave you with one last motivational quote from one of my favourite theologians, Dr. Seuss.
No one is you-er than you. And God created you that way, called you because of it, and loves you for all that you are.
This season after the Epiphany, may we continue to see God’s action in our world, Jesus present in our midst, and the Spirit anointing us to proclaim good news, justice, and freedom. Thanks be to God. Amen.