Luke 4:14–30 takes place early in Jesus’ ministry during a visit to his hometown. While attending Synagogue, he reads passages from Isaiah:

“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” (18–19).

And then he declares: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (21). The gathered people are excited until Jesus continues by citing two stories involving the Hebrew prophets Elijah and Elisha, that would have been well-known to the gathered worshippers, in which God offers help and healing to people who are not Israelites. Upon hearing this, the people were so enraged, they tried to throw Jesus off a cliff.

Reading Isaiah’s promise of Good News to Jesus’ hometown community, who were living in the shadow of the oppressive Roman empire, thrilled his listeners. But when Jesus went on to proclaim that God’s care and favour included, indeed targeted, those marginalized by the assembled community they rejected his message. It upended social values and expectations, proclaiming that an end to oppression means an end to oppression for everybody—and that was not the message the crowd wanted to hear. How often have each of us been part of such a crowd?

March 21 is International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Racial discrimination continues to be a major expression of oppression. Jesus’ words call us to action today, to disrupt the established patterns of racial discrimination that exist throughout our society. Systemic racism is not inevitable and, indeed, the Spirit of God is with us when, responding to Jesus’ example, we seek to eliminate racism.

Prayer for Change from within the Crowd (based on Luke 4:14–30)

Oh, you started off so beautifully Jesus.
It was just what we needed to hear:
Life is hard, brutal at times and words of comfort are rare.
So, thank you for your words.

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.”
Yes, we need to hear that.
They did back then too.
Those listeners in Nazareth. Like us, they needed to know you have not forgotten about us.
That we are your chosen people. That you are OUR God.
If you had left it there, it would have been fine Jesus.
More than fine, for some of us.

But you didn’t leave it there, did you?
No, you talked about: all those we want to forget, exclude, alienate, subjugate, scapegoat, dismiss.
All those “others” we want to pretend don’t matter to you.
“Leave us alone” we cry, shame rising, anger building
They can take care of themselves—they can turn to their own gods
Why should we care about them?

But your message rings out: in God there is no “us” and “them.”
There is only You.
Your creation
Your people
Your beloved!
With your Spirit, empower and impassion us to work for that freedom!
Amen.

Prayer by the Rev. Marty Molengraaf, minister at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Kitchener, Ontario.