- Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
- Luke 4:14-21
This series concludes with considering the Epiphanies of the words, wounds, wonder and welter of the biblical text. The words and stories of the faith are filled with power and life as the Spirit invites us to see new worlds through them.
The biblical text is not a neutral text; instead it is a troublesome voice countering the claims of the powerful and the silence of the powerless.
The Bible was shaped under empire and is testifying to God’s power to call forth new life from under and against dominant powers. Nehemiah captures the power and possibility of the Law to reform the people of Israel returning from exile.
The history of the texts suggest that a very large part of the Hebrew Scriptures is formed or edited under the time of Israel’s exile. Luke writes for a community schooled in the ways of Rome’s empire and longing for an alternative.
Each of the Gospels and the epistles give us our first encounter with Jesus and rooted there are the epiphanies of his powerful counter vision of life
Jesus stands up and takes the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. This symbolism of his taking prophetic word into his own hand is a key sign of the partnership of possibility between us and the text. That possibility could be to shape empire in our image. Or it can be to invite a new world of justice and peace, as Jesus does in Luke 4.
Word and body becomes mutually empowering agents of God’s counter-vision announcing the mission, which is God’s, 'to bring good news to the poor., 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.’
We read Nehemiah on the day we commemorate the Shoah, the Holocaust. Nehemiah challenges Israel to read the Law again as its way beyond the bitterness of exile.
In those sacred texts hope could shine again as they pointed to a vision of Israel and the world which countered that of Empire and their own kings.
Few white people understand the realities of ‘existence as resistance’. But for Nehemiah, and for people of colour, or of non-conforming sexuality or gender etc, this is the lived reality.
‘Shine’ is to claim pride and dignity in the identities that are counter to the cultures and systems of power, and see them as the grounds for God’s new world to come.
Lift up your eyes
The meanings of the text are not exhausted in the page. The epiphanies the Bible brings come when they are set free from church buildings and settle into the world that formed their drama and intent.
Let us lift our eyes to the places where Jesus has moved from the text of Luke 4 to settle amongst the despised, and the hunted and the hated.
Lift your eyes to Jesus in his Jewishness on Holocaust Remembrance Day
Proclaim the praise of the Lord
Here is an encapsulation of epiphany as counter-vision from Jews who were hiding from the Nazis in Cologne:
I believe in the sun even when it is not shining;
I believe in love even when feeling it not;
I believe in God even when he is silent.
In word and world we hear you cry:
The light of the world has come:
So let us shine
We lift up our eyes
To see your new world coming
And in doing justice
Proclaim the praise of the Lord
And so, we pray counter in and through us systems of despair and dread
With signs of love and peace.
Points for prayer
- Give thanks for the substantial programme of work of Christian Aid’s 17 partners in 20 of the most vulnerable districts of Bangladesh.
- Pray we would continue to help marginalised communities access land, water, forests, and basic government services, and that we would see local and national institutions be more accountable in their decision-making.
- Praise God and pray for the work of Christian Aid partner, Dustha Shasthya Kendra (DSK), helping communities adapt to a changing climate.
Prayer points taken from our prayer diary
These weekly pointers have been provided by Rev Dr Peter Cruchley, the Mission Secretary for Mission Development at the Council for World Mission.
He's also a minister of the United Reformed Church in the UK, and a member of the Christian Aid worship and theology collective.