Michael Torne offers this week’s reflection, drawing attention to the urgency voiced by this week’s lectionary Gospel, Luke 4.14-21.
Epiphany is the season of revelation, that light bulb moment when we feel we see something clearer than ever before. So far the Epiphany scriptures have revealed God incarnate in Jesus, his identity as God’s son, and his glory through the miracle at Cana. This week God’s manifesto to the world is revealed, a manifesto that Jesus will deliver.
We have heard many manifestos, including Britain’s Brexit manifesto. Like that manifesto much is promised that in the complex detail cannot be delivered. Here in Luke we have a manifesto to top all manifestos – clear, breath taking and unambiguous. That manifesto declares God’s wants us to be free! Free from feeling oppressed, feeling crushed by political decisions we have no sway over, economic decisions that seem to leave us worse off and more. By comparison Britain’s Brexit freedom is insignificant compared to God’s freedom.
We live in an evermore-polarised society, a black and white society that is exclusive, that seems closed to forbearance, tolerance and co-operation. Insiders and outsiders are at the core of Luke’s Gospel. The season of Epiphany reveals God as the God of all, a God who through Jesus Christ points the way for us; a way revealed to us in the coming season of Lent – the costly way of the cross .
Those who listened that day to Jesus believed themselves to be God’s chosen people or insiders. We declare ourselves to be God’s children but like them we often forget or don’t understand all men are his children. In that oversight we claim exclusive grace. But it is grace available to all. That was part of the shock to listeners that day. The revelation in God’s manifesto is the coming of justice and mercy, the disappointment is that it is for both insiders and outsiders.
We pray in our churches for justice and mercy but often fall short in taking action in our wider communities. When we talk of homelessness, refugees, re-distribution of wealth our attitude changes like those in the synagogue. We may sign up to these things in principle but find it hard to put into action.
Jesus says He is the anointed and the word is fulfilled. We as the body of Christ, as St Paul puts it, live in Christ and in living in Christ become the anointed ones. God is for us, with us and in us through Jesus Christ, we are anointed to carry on the work of bringing the manifesto to where we are, and to the world.
How can we do it?
By rooting ourselves in Scripture we allow Christ to be seen and act through us in our lives. Bringing the manifesto to the people we meet in our communities may seem an impossible task, a task we may want to shrink from. But the small things we can do as individuals when joined by our brothers and sisters rooted in Christ in our individual churches and echoed by the whole Christian community we can bring the joy of God’s manifesto. There will always be those who do not want to listen, those who want to ridicule. Most of us may look like unlikely messengers of God. Just as those sitting in the synagogue with Jesus found it difficult to see the local carpenter’s son as the fulfilment of the prophecies.
We will have to live with the shortcomings of the Brexit manifesto. But today if we accept that by living in Christ we are his anointed we are able to aid in bringing God’s manifesto into the reality of society, breaking down the barriers of our polarised society. There is an apocryphal story of a church where worshippers turned up for their service to be confronted with a closed church door. Pinned to it, it had a notice reading ‘You have been coming here long enough, now just go and do it!’. God is revolutionary, and he wants us to be revolutionary too. In a world full of injustice, intolerance and lack of compassion, God wants to turn it upside down – and he expects us to help!
Michael Torne is a Reader in the Anglican chaplaincy in Aquitaine, France. Michael was licensed as a Reader in ministry in Aquitaine in 2017. During his professional working life he worked as a director of an multidisciplinary design company based in UK but on international projects. He has two grown up children, both of whose lives are potentially heavily affected by Brexit. The photos illustrate the life and ministry of the Anglican church in Aquitaine – and Michael’s licensing two years ago.