Jesus' First Sermon
Updated: Dec 20, 2022
This time of the church year is a period of firsts. Last week we heard about Jesus’ first miracle when he turned water into wine. And now, this week, we hear Jesus’ first sermon, the beginning of his public ministry in the Gospel According to Luke. Jesus seems to have preached a few times already and made a name for himself, but now he’s going to his hometown of Nazareth to preach what is often considered his inaugural sermon.
We recall in Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding at Cana, how that miracle revealed God’s desire for us to celebrate and enjoy abundant life. And now in Jesus’ first sermon, we see that his mission is specifically about bringing abundant life to those who need it most. The poor, the captive, the blind, the oppressed. Those most trapped in “un-abundance” we might say, are the first people Jesus is going to reach. They are the people Jesus is concerned with first and foremost, and the people Jesus’ followers need to be concerned with first and foremost as well.
Some theologians call this “God’s preferential option for the poor.” All throughout scripture there’s a trend: we see God proclaiming freedom and liberation to those trapped in oppression and poverty. And we hear God’s people—whether the people of Israel in the Old Testament or the early church in the New Testament—are called to dedicate their lives to ending poverty and oppression. It’s a lesson that flows so naturally after we’ve realized Jesus came to bring abundant life. He’s especially concerned with those who have the least, and will call on those who are the most blessed to provide to our brothers and sisters in need.
Catholic priest and theologian Gustavo Gutierrez is one of the founders of liberation theology. Liberation theologians recognize this “preferential option for the poor” is the first thing Jesus preached about and understand it as the primary call for what it means to follow Jesus. Liberation theology says that the acid test for any society’s morality is how they treat their most vulnerable, namely the poor. Additionally, the acid test of the church’s morality, and whether or not we’re really following Jesus’ path, is how we treat the most vulnerable and the poor.
In this inaugural sermon, Jesus is telling the people at his home synagogue what his ministry will be all about. Good news to the poor. Liberation for the captive. Sight to the blind. Freedom for the oppressed. There’s a reason this is his first sermon. It sets the tone for all that is to come.
Now it is not just the materially poor that Jesus came to set free. It is also the spiritually poor. Those trapped in sin and the illusions of this world. Usually the oppressor is more spiritually wounded than the oppressed. Oftentimes, the wealthiest may in fact be the most spiritually impoverished. And sometimes, the ones who look like they have it all together may be the most broken inside.
Jesus came to heal all of our brokenness. Not all of us live in destitute poverty. And those who do should be our first priority. But all people suffer from some sort of poverty, and it is for all of us that Jesus came. To heal our broken world. To die for our sake. To set us free from sin and to reconcile the world with God. As Jesus’ ministry continues, he will make clear that he is not only here to save one group of people, but rather to be the savior of the entire world.
And perhaps the most powerful pronouncement Jesus makes is not the declaration of what his mission is, but the declaration of who he is. It’s the statement that: today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. Jesus is making the bold claim that he is the fulfillment of this scripture from the prophet Isaiah. Jesus says he is the one who the Spirit of the Lord is upon. He is the one who has been anointed to bring good news to the poor. He is the one who will bring liberation, freedom, and abundant life.
Jesus calls forth peace and justice into the world, and invites his followers to participate in what God is doing in making this world a manifestation of the kingdom—a world which supports and guides people into right relationship with God rather than driving us away from God. This is the world Jesus came to establish, the world he calls the church to be, and the world he promises humanity will someday see when God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
So I invite you this week to pay attention to how God is using you to bring good news to the poor, to ease the suffering of others in some way, and to be a participant in the ministry of reconciliation. As Jesus’ followers we get to be a part of the Spirit’s movement in the world, and we are blessed to know that Jesus Christ of Nazareth is good news for the whole world.
And so we know that in Christ we have our freedom and our liberation from all that holds us captive. Whether we are rich or poor, whether we are happy or broken, whether we feel lost or found. And, inspired by our Christian faith, we set out to make the world a place where the oppressed are set free and the poor have enough. We follow Jesus in his care for all people, especially those most in need. And we trust that Christ heals us in our brokenness, in our stress and anxiety, in our grief and pain, and empowers us to go out and share his good news with all the world. Amen.
Pastor Brian, 1/23/22