Gospel Reading

Luke 4:14-23

And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee, and a report concerning him went out through all the surrounding country. 15 And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. 16 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; 17 and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written,

18 “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,
19 to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

20 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. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 And all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth; and they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself; what we have heard you did at Caper′na-um, do here also in your own country.’” (Revised Standard Version)

Reflection Points

The following reflections are based on the Gospel reading for Sixth Sunday after the Holy Cross:

The Holy Evangelists

On the Saturday of the fifth week of the Holy Cross, the Armenian Church commemorates the Holy Evangelists (the four Gospel writers): Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But what about the Holy Evangelists does the Church honor and remember? Do we remember them as mere biographers who tell the story of the Gospel? Or is the Gospel something more than a story or message?

In this Sunday’s Gospel reading, Jesus quotes from the prophet Isaiah, a prophecy of the coming of the Kingdom of God, a prophecy fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. Everywhere Jesus went, the Kingdom was at hand.

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.

What is the good news to the poor to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs? (see Matthew 5:3) What good news would we all want to hear and experience? Our burdens, bruises, and broken hearts are healed; the burden of the debt caused by sin has been forgiven and cancelled; that which holds us captive and enslaves us is broken and we are set free! This is the coming of the Kingdom, the Gospel to which the Holy Evangelists were witnesses – the saving action and life of Jesus Christ.

And so the Gospel, to which we are also witnesses, is not a message or an idea. In other words, we are not saved by the message of Jesus Christ, nor are we healed by an idea, nor are we baptized into a story. The Gospel, is a person who can be known, loved, and celebrated. The Gospel, simply stated, is Jesus Christ.

When we commit ourselves daily, even momentarily to the Gospel, we are joining ourselves to Jesus Christ, to receive his love and to be his evangelists for others to encounter him. St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans (10:15) quotes from the Prophet Isaiah (52:7)

And how can men preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!”

The Lord has Anointed Us

The prophecy in Isaiah, fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ, mentions that he was anointed to preach the good news to the poor. Just as Jesus was anointed at his baptism, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit to begin his ministry, in turn we too are anointed with God’s divinity at our baptism, filled with the same Holy Spirit, the same power to carry on his ministry of preaching the good news to the poor, the poor being those who realize their need to utterly depend on God.

Enlightened for ministry

It is at baptism that we are made free in Christ, no longer slaves to sin, but adopted as children of God, as members of the Church, the Body of Christ. We are given new garments, the garment of Jesus Christ as St. Paul writes to the Galatians, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (3:27)

Coming to the knowledge of God, enlightenment or illumination, begins at our baptism. Before the confession of faith, everyone turns from facing west and faces east saying, “We turn to the light of the knowledge of God.” When the priest anoints the person being baptized with muron, he prays,

You have enlightened your creatures, O Christ our God, making the light of the knowledge of God shine forth in our hearts. And now you have made this your servant free

Knowledge of God

The epistle reading for Sunday is also from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

So through God you are no longer a slave but a son…Formerly, when you did not know God, you were in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods; but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits, whose slaves you want to be once more? (Galatians 4:7-9)

Commenting on the Gospel reading for Sunday, the early twelfth-century Church Father, Sarkis Kund of Haghpat describes the poor as those who have been robbed of their knowledge of God and stripped of faith. He tells us how Jesus came to restore our impoverished nature back to its divine glory.

Jesus was anointed to release the sins of those who have been made captive by its power. He illuminates those who are blind in heart by the knowledge of God. And those who are wounded, made vulnerable by sin, he liberates through release in baptism, the eyes of their minds enlightened by the knowledge of the Lord.

The Church has a mission

It is the Church who releases captives, frees us from sin and the burdens of the world. We, the Church, the Body of Christ, full of anointed believers are sent to bring the truth of the Gospel to the spiritually blind, to minister to the oppressed, the wounded, the crushed, the rejected and the dejected.

Note from the Gospel reading that the beginning of Jesus’ ministry takes place in the synagogue. St. Ephrem the Syrian writes,

He had come to Galilee and had begun to teach, not outside of the synagogue but within it. Since the matter was known through their worship service, he came to talk to them about their God.

The same happens within the Church as Jesus is present within his Body, teaching us always. How else will we know the truth unless it begins and is known through our worship? And so, through the Church, by way of baptism and all of the sacraments, by way of her worship and liturgy, by way of God’s love and forgiveness, those who have been baptized, those who have been enlightened and are continually coming to know God, are to celebrate and proclaim to the world the Acceptable Year of the Lord.

We are anointed for the task.

The Year of Jubilee

Following his baptism in the Jordan where Jesus was anointed as the Messiah by the Holy Spirit and affirmed as the second Person of the Holy Trinity along with God the Father, Jesus entered the wilderness full of the Holy Spirit where he fasted for forty days and was tempted by the devil. And then Luke tells us Jesus returned in the power of the Holy Spirit to Galilee, his hometown, to begin his ministry which interestingly takes place in a synagogue.

(n.b. Christ did not become the anointed Savior. When Jesus was anointed at his baptism, it was a theophany, a revelation of who he already was from before the foundation of the world. At his birth, the Incarnation, Jesus was fully God and fully human. His divinity did not come later.)

What and when is the acceptable year of the Lord?

When Jesus read from the Prophet Isaiah, what did he mean when he said this prophecy has been fulfilled today? What is the acceptable year of the Lord? And even more, when is this acceptable year? The prophecy reads,

Հոգի Տեառն ի վերայ իմ, վասն որոյ եւ օծ իսկ զիս, աւետարանել աղքատաց առաքեաց զիս, բժշկել զբեկեալս սրտիւ: քարոզել գերեաց զթողութիւն եւ կուրաց տեսանել, արձակել զվիրաւորս ի թողութիւն, քարոզել զտարեկան Տեառն ընդունելի: (Ղուկաս 4:18-19)

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, wherefore verily he also anointed me; he sent me to [bring/give] good news to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim release to captives, and sight to the blind. To announce the year of the Lord’s acceptance. (Isaiah 61:1-2, Luke 4:18-19)

(Note: In the Armenian Bible, the texts in both Luke and Isaiah are essentially the same)

Keep in mind the audience of Jesus who would have made a specific connection as they listened to him. In the Old Testament, the Sabbath cycle included a year of smoothing everything out. It was called the Year of Jubilee, and mostly had to do with land and property rights. Slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven, and property would be returned to its rightful owner.

In other words, the mercies of God would be demonstrated (see Leviticus 25:8-13). The Jubilee Year was the part of the Israelite economy that brought balance, it put everything in its right place, in order and restored. And so the “acceptable year of the Lord” to which Isaiah refers can be considered proper righteousness lived out.

Earthly vs. Cosmic

But let’s be careful. Jesus is not referencing the “acceptable year of the Lord” as an earthly economic system, but as a foreshadowing of something greater. Instead, Jesus is raising the “acceptable year” to a cosmic level. It is a greater liberation than the Jewish Year of Jubilee. What Jesus is referring to, then, is the actual coming of the Kingdom of God.

In other words, the acceptable year is the “time of the Lord,” his incarnation as God in flesh and blood, when the Kingdom of God has come to earth. And when does that year take place? He said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The acceptable year is today! It is the time of salvation. St. Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians,

For he says,

“At the acceptable time I have listened to you,
and helped you on the day of salvation.”

Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. (II Corinthians 6:2)

The results of the Jubilee

Christ’s entire ministry is a cosmic Jubilee and his ministry never ends. We are living now in the Acceptable Year of the Lord! He opens our eyes to his presence in the world, making us, the blind, see despite our distractions. He smooths our suffering, like applying oil that fills the cracks with his love and mercy. He liberates our imprisoned souls and illuminates our darkened hearts and minds. He relinquishes and cancels our debt of sin, a burden which paralyzes us and breaks our communion with God and with one another. As a result of his forgiveness in this Year of Jubilee, death no longer has a hold on us. We are let go, no longer indebted, set free from its power. We sing in our Badarak, “You, the unchangeable One, became man and you were crucified, O Christ our God, and you trampled down death by death.”

Raised to citizens of heaven

Essentially, because of the arrival of the Son of God, we are raised from citizens of this world to citizens of heaven, citizens of the Kingdom of God. And so the balancing, the righting of things, the practice of righteousness has become the everyday pattern in the life of a baptized Christian. All of us, even at our best, live as though true freedom is license to do as we please. Of course. we live within reason, within the boundaries of societal law, but essentially move through life as beings with free will to choose autonomously without eternal accountability, often running away from our parent, the Creator, in order to indulge in various passions.

True and authentic freedom

True and authentic freedom, freedom in Christ, which is true to our nature as created beings in God’s image, is freedom from being bound by sin rather than license to live as we please, which is another way to describe sin. St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians:

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (5:1)

Celebrating the Acceptable Year of the Lord

So how do we celebrate the Acceptable Year of the Lord? Do we, the Church carry on the mission foretold by Isaiah and fulfilled in Jesus? Bringing and giving the Good News of Jesus Christ to others? Do we actively invite those who do not know God to get baptized, to be enlightened and freed from the binding captivity of addiction, fear, anxiety, shame, hopelessness, illness, rejection, and loneliness? Do we show mercy to those who may, or in our minds may not deserve it? Do we forgive those who owe us something or have performed unspeakable things to us?

Who are the poor, the blind, the broken-hearted, the prisoners in our parish community? In our families? In our workplaces? In the world within our reach? How can these truths be applied during times of persecution or unjust provocation? Surely, a test of faith.

Քարոզել զտարեկան or Տեառն ընդունելի implies celebration, a time to rejoice! Wherever Jesus walks, wherever Jesus is present, the Jubilee has come. Today is the Acceptable Year of the Lord. Give thanks and celebrate. We are free!

The Acceptable Year and Badarak

In Christ, we experience the kind of freedom from that which binds and enslaves. This freedom is found uniquely and only in the Church. And we, as baptized Christians have the privilege to receive the very medicine which heals and frees us – the Holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Badarak is not the remembrance of events past, but the coming of the Kingdom of God into our midst. The Church in her worship, liturgy, and sacraments is a celebration of the Acceptable Year of the Lord. While the people sing the cherished words of Soorp, Soorp, the priest prays inaudibly,

And at the end of these days, tearing up the sentence of condemnation for all our debts, you gave us your only-begotten Son, both debtor and debt, immolation and anointed, lamb and heavenly bread, high priest and sacrifice…. (p. 30)

In the Jubilee year, debts are cancelled, not paid. Likewise, Christ doesn’t pay our debt, he destroys it! (See Matthew 18:23-35) The priest continues,

…for he is distributor and he himself is distributed always in our midst without being ever consumed. (p. 30)

The Acceptable Year of the Lord never ends and so we can never exhaust the divine blessings of Jesus. There is always forgiveness, healing, and eternal freedom.

By Dn. Eric Vozzy