thinking theology

Will We?

In Luke 4:14-21, Luke has Jesus read from a scroll of Isaiah. What he reads are two passages, Isaiah 58:2 and 61:1-2, although It sounds to us like they are one. God’s judgement is omitted in what we would call the original text. leading me to think we have two theological considerations here.

The first is the question of the fulfillment of these prophetic statements. Usually, we understand that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s justice and mercy. But what does that mean? Practically speaking, the world has not improved its record of kindness and peace. In our era, we are systematically destroying the planet and its creatures, including ourselves. Isaiah’s words sound almost forlorn and hopeless to us. 

Perhaps the Isaiah quote was Jesus’ call to awaken Israel to the purpose for which it was chosen, to be the model community, the sacred community, the keeper of justice and peace. I wonder, though, if the people of Nazareth had hoped for a cheerier interaction from a home grown son. Maybe they wanted comfort rather than a call to action. Jesus imbeds this call in his own life, and ultimately in his death. 

The call to justice and integrity is not bound by contemporary circumstance; rather it is the expectation of a commitment  by the faithful. In Judaism, it is expressed in the law and the prophets. In Christianity, it is expressed in the resurrection. Every Sunday we are reminded that we are the living body of Christ in the world. Every Sunday we express our gratitude for his presence in our lives.

The second theological question is around being corporeal, in the flesh. Christianity is less a philosophy and more a practice. It is less a religion and more rooted in the lifestyle of Jesus. It is spiritual in a physical, relational way. I think Jesus would love the new cosmology that sees how everything is connected.

So what does this passage mean for us in our time? I think we need to spend less time on intangibles and more time being present in and for our world. As a corporate body, our beliefs are useless to our neighbours, but our baptismal promises are crucial to how we participate in and transform our community and our world. 

It doesn’t really matter where we begin. It does matter that we understand that we cannot call ourselves followers of Jesus without paying attention to the promises made in baptism, to the call to be part of the resurrection now, to hear the voice of God through the prophet Isaiah. Here is what one contemporary prophet said:

“The movement is everyone who sends supplies, everyone who talks to their friends and families about the underlying issues, everyone who takes some form of action to get involved in this civic process.”

— Jonathan Matthew Smucker, Occupy Wall Street Co-founder

And here are some baptismal promises:

Presider: God is love. God gives us life. We love because God first loved us. In baptism God declares that love; in Christ God calls us to respond. From the beginning the Church has received believers by baptism. On the day when the apostles first urged his hearers, saying “Turn and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus the Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are far away, everyone whom God may call.”

Sponsor and Candidate: I hear God’s call and come for baptism.

Presider: Will you learn to recognize what you need to grow and change for the good?

Sponsor and Candidate: I will, with God’s help.

Presider: Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?

Sponsor and Candidate: I will, with God’s help.

Presider: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself?

Sponsor and Candidate: I will, with God’s help.

Presider: Will you work for justice and peace among all people? Will you care for God’s creation? 

Sponsor and Candidate: I will, with God’s help.

Presider: Do you trust in Christ’s love which brings freedom and life? Will you turn to him in time of trouble?

Sponsor and Candidate: I will, with God’s help.

The question to ask ourselves as we meditate on our own baptismal promises: Will we?

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