Posted: Tuesday 29th January 2019
Jesus, my brother.
Fourth Sunday of Epiphany Year C 2019.
Rev’d Simon Buckley
(Gospel reading Luke 4:14-21: Jesus returns to Nazareth and reads in the synagogue)
It was good to have Jesus back home with us. We hadn’t seen him for a while, though we’d heard reports. Someone told us that he’d been to see our cousin John who was baptizing people in the river Jordan, a ‘baptism of repentance’ they called it. Which we thought was a bit odd to be honest, because in our family Jesus was sometimes regarded as a bit of a goody-goody- the ‘perfect son’. The neighbours would understand that I might need to do a bit of repenting and be baptised… and James, our younger brother, even more so. But Jesus, well, he was always just a bit different to the rest of us. Yes, he was like a normal boy growing up, just a bit effortlessly perfect! Though you couldn’t hate him for it, it was just him. I wish I could have been a bit more like him to be honest, but, well I tried; I can’t say more than that. And our parents treated us equally, though we always joked that he was mum’s favourite, her blue ‘eyed boy’. But I guess being the first born he was bound to be, though his eyes were dark brown like the rest of us.
Anyway, we were all quite excited to have him back. After the baptism he seemed to have gone AWOL for a bit: like he’d disappeared into the wilderness or something, but then we started to hear that he was going through Galilee preaching and teaching and we thought “oh no, ‘he’s gone and got religion’!” . Dad said “I do hope it’s just a phase- I need him back here at the workbench”. He was a good carpenter too, no wonder Dad wanted him back, me I’m useless with a hammer and a saw. But word got around that Jesus was coming back home to Nazareth and you’d have thought he’d been away for years the fuss that people were making. I didn’t quite understand it. I mean, I knew Jesus was popular and, sure, I’d missed him- but let’s face it wasn’t exactly ‘the return of the prodigal son’, to coin a phrase.
But when he came back he did seem a bit different, not like completely different, not aloof, no certainly not aloof, but it was as though… well we were still definitely his family, but the way he looked at others it was as though he now had the same love for them as he had for us. It’s a bit hard to explain. But he didn’t seem to have turned into some raving God-squadder, so that was a relief. And he hadn’t started wearing a camel hair shirt and started eating locust beans like John- I tell you, he’d have got a right ribbing from me if he had done!
Saturday, as usual we went to the Synagogue. As we were walking down the street Joseph, dad, put his arms round us- one round my shoulders the other round Jesus’ and he said “I’ve missed doing this- us being together- one family”. Of course, as kids we didn’t always want to go the synagogue every Saturday. Well, I saw we didn’t – I didn’t. Jesus, well Jesus always seemed keener to go than me. But then, you understand that the synagogue was also our school so we were there quite a lot and I thought that we should be given a break on the sabbath, but apparently not! As well as being our school the synagogue was also a meeting place- good for seeing friends, networking and, in my dad’s case, the perfect place to catch up with anyone who hadn’t settled their bills: Amos the basket weaver had better not claim to have forgotten his purse for the third week running, that’s all I can say! The synagogue’s not like the Temple- it’s more like a community centre really- though when we gather there we chant a few psalms, recite the decalogue- the law of Moses (you know, what some people call the Ten Commandments) and then have a reading from the scriptures. Usually one of the rabbis will explain the passage to us, which I’m glad about if it’s from one of the prophets as I sometimes haven’t got a clue what they’re on about. Though sometimes after the rabbi’s sermon I’m none the wiser, if you know what I mean.
Now because word had spread that Jesus was home the attendant at the synagogue thought it would be nice if Jesus read the passage of scripture that day. There’s a rota we can sign up to so we can take it in turns. I say, ‘we’, only the men of course, but I’m always happy not too- I’m not much given to public speaking, whereas Jesus is a natural- it just flows. What’s really weird is that sometimes he doesn’t even look like he’s reading it- it’s like he’s learnt or intuitively knows every word. I mean, imagine knowing every word of Ezekiel, or Jeremiah! As Bartholemew said to me one time “your brother really needs to get a life… or a girlfriend”, earning him a clip round the ear from Dad, who wouldn’t have word said against him, even though I don’t think he really understood him at times. Certainly not like mum seemed to.
So the Chazzan, the attendant, produces the scroll from the special cupboard on the wall in the synagogue that faces Jerusalem, and he carefully carries it over to Jesus who is standing ready to read. We’ve all sat down on the floor ready to listen. Now when it comes to the reading you can’t just pick your favourite bit; if we did we would probably be hearing Noah’s Ark every week, or the story of Cain murdering Abel, which James read once in a way that it sounded like he was getting ideas about getting rid of me. Honestly, for a week afterwards every time he’d suggest we go out to the fields and play I was like “no way!”. I was only nine at the time.
So, today’s scroll was the prophet Isaiah- which always goes down well- but as Jesus stood there, and started to read it, I don’t know how to explain it, but it was like the atmosphere in the synagogue changed. He’d read loads of times before, but even just standing there today he seemed different- he seemed not just confident but like he was where he was meant to be, if that makes any sense. It was awesome. And, as he read, it was as if everyone gradually stopped breathing… hanging on every carefully placed word, until we were all sat breathless, captivated by his delivery:
The spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To let the oppressed go free.
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
I’d heard these same words a dozen times, but they’d never sounded like they did today. Coming from him they sounded…. alive. At the end of the reading, as he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant, there was just silence; no one moved and honestly, I’d swear no one was even breathing. We couldn’t take our eyes off him. Then Jesus sat down and said, very calmly, in a very matter of fact way, “today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” …. I felt James eyes turn to look at me, but I couldn’t look back. I was transfixed by what Jesus had said and the way he’d said it; and wondered what on earth he was going to say next. My mouth was dry with nervousness: part of me was worried he’d gone mad, that he really had become a religious nutter, but then just the way he said it … it seemed so…..so… the only word I can use is ‘natural’. It just seemed like a totally natural thing for him to say.
That frozen silence seemed to last for ages and eventually I looked back to find mum, who seemed to be smiling, slightly tearful, almost as though she had seen this coming and dad, well I think at that moment he knew he had to face up the fact that Jesus was not going to have time to build cupboards. Jesus had, what’s the phrase …‘other fish to catch’.
Eventually someone at the back clapped and said “well read, Jesus!” and it was like we all finally breathed again and the atmosphere began to return to normal. Everyone said how well he’d spoken: ‘gracious words’ someone called them, as though the voice of God was alive in him. Peter the fisherman slapped dad on his shoulder and made some joke about Jesus spoke so well he couldn’t possibly be his, which dad looked a bit uncomfortable about, but which we all laughed off as we knew it was only meant as a joke. Though like all good jokes they’re usually funny because there’s some truth in them. I only realised this later of course.
And as I look back to that day, yes it marked a shift in how people in the village viewed Jesus, but I think it changed all our relationships with him. Yes, he came home and he came back to his family but in a funny sort of way it was the moment when we knew he wouldn’t be staying and his family was perhaps more than just us, his blood relatives.
But something else had changed: It was no longer enough just to say that ‘Jesus was the good boy in our family’, or that he had grown up to become a ‘good’ man. He was more than that. Yes, he was my brother, yes he was a good man, but that doesn’t begin to touch or describe who he really was.
Sure, true to his word he did go on to do some of the things he’d said in that reading – I saw for myself how someone who was blind got their sight back and people who felt like they had nothing in his presence found worth and reason for living- but it wasn’t just that he did good things or that good things came true.
It was like he was truth and goodness personified… it took me a while to see it but I think this was the day we realised that Jesus, my brother, was truth and goodness living on earth, right among us.