Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
1 Cor. 12:12-31a
“All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” So ends the first part of the story of Jesus’ preaching in the synagogue of Nazareth. He has just come from forty days in the wilderness, driven there by the Spirit after his baptism. But, “filled with the Holy Spirit,”as Luke tells it, things then take a strange turn: for no reason apparent in the text he begins to provoke the hometown crowd, saying that they’re going to reject him: “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town,” he says, and other impertinent things. He makes a narrow escape from being thrown off a cliff for his insolence. But, today we have the nice part of the story.
“The spirit of the Lord is upon me…”The gracious words that came from his mouth were Isaiah’s gracious words, from a passage sometimes grouped with the so-called “Servant Songs”. One of the best known of these we hear in Holy Week: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.” [Is. 53:5] The Servant Songs in Isaiah helped shape the early church’s understanding of Jesus—and very well could have helped shape Jesus’ understanding of himself. And if these prophetic songs help us understand Jesus, they help us understand ourselves. The church is the servant of God; each of us is servant of God. He came not to be served, but to serve [Mark 10:45]—as do we.
Isn’t this a delicious, made-for-the-movies rampage? In the verses just before Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding—but only after being borderline-rude to his mother: “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come”. If in that episode he was standard bearer for cheeky young men, today he is patron saint of the hot headed.
He probably didn’t go all the way in with that whip of cords. The merchants and money changers would have been in the outer precincts of the Temple complex. Herod had built an enormous platform with retaining walls for the Temple, which was surrounded by a broad plaza, divided into zones of access. There was an outer Court of the Gentiles. Jewish women could get closer to the Temple proper. Jewish men could enter the Temple, but not into the court of the Priests. The High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies, but only once a year on the Day of Atonement. The Holy of Holies was the inner sanctum partitioned off by a great curtain. (The curtain rods of the baldacchino over our altar are a vestige of this.)