Then he began to say to them,
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4: 21)
“Pride and Prejudice”, “Lord of the Rings”; “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”. These are just three of many books which have been dramatised for cinema or television screens.
If we have read one of these books we will probably have pictures in our minds of what we think the characters look like, their tone of voice and, perhaps, their demeanour or attitude.
As we watch the story unfolding on the screen we may be appalled at the portrayal of the characters or disappointed in the setting and scenery. On the other hand we might be delighted that the characters are exactly as we imagined them and the whole experience is as satisfying as that of reading the novel.
There’s also, of course, the whole question of how closely the film follows the book’s plot, what’s been left out or added and why.
We all imagine things in different ways and in one sense, provided the film story doesn’t completely change the book, one person’s interpretation is likely to be as valid as another’s.
Bringing an author’s words to life can be challenging and rewarding and the “live” portrayal can enhance and enrich the experience of reading the book.
Today we think about what happens when the words of God, our creator, are brought to life in human form as Jesus reveals himself to be the fulfilment of God’s words spoken through his prophets and recorded in scripture.
The setting for the drama of the Gospel reading today is the synagogue in Nazareth and we are told very clearly that it was Jesus’ custom to attend synagogue regularly. Luke wants us to understand that Jesus is a devout Jew, familiar with Jewish scriptures, the law and the prophets. When Jesus reads aloud the passage from Isaiah he and the people listening to him would understand that this is a reference to God’s “anointed one”, the longed for Messiah who would bring in God’s kingdom on earth.
We can perhaps imagine a scene of great drama and tension as Jesus, no doubt with authority and meaning, reads the words of Isaiah, slowly rolls up the scroll and sits down. “The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him”. There is silence, deep and expectant, time seems to stand still as Jesus perhaps looks round at each person there – all known to him as neighbours and friends, each important to him as a child of God. Then into the silence he speaks with authority, certainty and a power that comes from deep within him: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
The people of Israel had been given a word picture of God’s promised Saviour and what he would do. Now, suddenly, they have Jesus before them, a living person, who is going to put God’s laws into action and fulfil the words of the prophets.
And what are we to make of it now that the words and deeds of Jesus are written down and treated as part of God’s Holy Scriptures?
It might be tempting to keep words about Jesus on the printed page, study them and analyse them without becoming part of the story ourselves. We might believe our interpretation of the Gospel stories is the true one; that Jesus makes it very clear what God says and does and that we must accept this without engaging in conversation with Jesus, the Living Word.
In his account of the Gospel John makes it very clear that Jesus is Word of God made flesh and dwelling among us and perhaps we are invited to hold the scriptures in our lives as living words of God with which we can have a relationship that allows for questions, discussion, struggle, learning, correction and nourishment.
Our encounters with Jesus through the living words of scripture can be every bit as exciting, challenging and life-giving as encounters with the Jesus of history because they are also encounters with the eternal Christ who shows us today what God looks like in human form and it won’t always be what we imagined!
Perhaps one verse of Timothy Dudley-Smith’s hymn “Lord for the years” might be our prayer this Bible Sunday.
“Lord, for the word, the word of life which fires us,
speaks to our hearts, and sets our souls ablaze,
teaches and trains, rebukes us and inspires us:
Lord of the word, receive your people’s praise.”
1. God has spoken words to bring creation into being.
2. God’s law and the words of his prophets are recorded for the people of Israel in their scriptures.
3. Jesus through his being, his words and actions show us what the fulfilment of God’s word is like in human form.
4. We can encounter through our scriptures, the living word of God, the eternal Christ through whom God reveals himself to us.
Lord Jesus, in your being and through your life you reveal the glory of God our Father. We come to you now trusting in your promise to hear us when we pray in faith.
Lord Jesus, we pray for your church as she proclaims your Gospel of love and truth. Let all who search the scriptures to find eternal life do so in the light of your wisdom and through your loving and compassionate eyes. Forgive us when we seek to use your word for our own ends and to condemn others. Give us the grace and openness to hear your message for us today and to allow your word to abide in us.
Lord Jesus, you were sent into this world by God our Father but so many in this world refused to believe or to accept you. Still, today, so many turn their backs on you or are unable to hear your truth. Let there be a new spirit of yearning for unity and peace in the world. Let those who claim that God is on their side recognise the truth that the love of God is for all peoples and that the Word of God cannot belong exclusively to anyone.
Lord Jesus, you are the living word of God who came to dwell among us. You know the demands and delights of living in community with others. Help us who believe in you live our lives in the light of your wisdom and to see others through your loving and compassionate eyes. Help us to recognise and acknowledge you in the lives and work of those around us and to be open to the possibilities of meeting you in unexpected places.
Lord Jesus, you brought comfort and healing to all who came to you in distress. We bring to you now those we know who are suffering any kind of pain. We pray that you will meet their needs with your love and compassion and lighten their darkness with the eternal flame of your Spirit.
Lord Jesus, you are the living word of God but you faced death and overcame it, rising to a new and eternal life. Strengthen us with faith and hope of life in your eternal kingdom where you reign with the Father and the Spirit, one God for all people and for all time. Amen