Answering the Call of a Sabbath Jubilee

December 16, 2013 | John McVay

The congregation uses a set of assigned Bible verses for each Sabbath service. So it is reverently that the assistant, the hazzan, places the correct scroll in the Guest’s arms. With matching respect, the Guest unrolls the scroll, finds the correct place and reads the designated passage from the Pentateuch. Next, the scroll of Isaiah is passed to the young, visiting Rabbi. This time He does not turn to the specified section. He selects His own passage:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Luke 4:18–19, ESV).

He rolls up the scroll of Isaiah the prophet, hands it to the hazzan, moves toward the center of the raised platform and sits down to expound the Scriptures.

To this point in Luke’s story, all Jesus’ words have been from Scripture. Now we are to hear directly from Him. He is poised to expound the Scriptures. And His words snap and sizzle in that little synagogue like a live and loose electric wire: “'Today this Scripture stands fulfilled in your hearing’” (verse 21).

The passage from Isaiah — with its words not from the prophet himself but from the Servant of Yahweh — is not just about Jesus. Jesus, as Servant of Yahweh and the Son of the Father, reissues the words on His own authority. In the ancient but renewed words, Jesus announces that His mission as “anointed One," as Christ, as Messiah, will be a transforming one for the poor, captives, the blind and the oppressed.

The culminating aspect of His mission is this: "'... to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’” All that is to happen in the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25) is packaged up in Jesus as Messiah. Jesus draws on Isaiah’s “jubilary themes” of “release” and “the year of the Lord’s favor.” He announces the arrival of “the eschatological epoch of salvation, the time of God’s gracious visitation, with ... Himself ... as its anointed herald.”1

We meet today at the beginning of a decade of Sabbath Jubilee — 2013–2023. We are called to understand Walla Walla University as the theater of His grace, a place offering the rest of Sabbath and the release of the Year of Jubilee.

We assemble in that little synagogue in Nazareth. We listen to the Guest read the passage of His choosing. We whisper our evaluation of His reading skills. We hear the snap and sizzle of His declaration, “'Today this Scripture stands fulfilled in your hearing.’” We hear a haunting, winsome call to join in the ministry of Jesus. And by the grace of Jesus, Herald of eschatological salvation, we answer the call, participate in His mission and experience Sabbath Jubilee.

1. Joel B. Green, "The Gospel of Luke," New International Commentary on the New Testament(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1997), p. 212.