Read any Good Book lately ?
I bet your copy (or copies) of the Good Book don’t look like the one pictured here. This one is a Hebrew-language scroll of the Torah— the Books of Moses, which we call Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy— hand-written for a Jewish community in Lithuania.
[ http://scrolls4all.org/scrolls/tanakh/ ]
Our modern copies of the Bible are the type that scholars call a “codex”: a stack of flat pages with a binding on one side: our idea of a normal “book.”
In our gospel reading for this Sunday, Jesus is in the Nazareth synagogue, the building where Jews met for study, for fellowship, and, after the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, for worship. Jesus stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “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 favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. (Luke 4:16-20)
For the Jews gathered in that Nazareth synagogue, this was a familiar ceremony, but that day it had a surprise ending.
When the attendant handed Jesus the scroll, Jesus demonstrated a couple of good Jewish reading skills.
First, it takes training and practice to be able to roll a scroll to a particular spot and find precisely the passage you want to read: they don’t come with chapters and verses marked !! How many of us could look up something in a Bible without the chapters and verses being labeled ?
Second, Jesus was able to read. Nowadays, in the 21st Century, we hope that nearly everybody will be able to read (although we haven’t fully achieved this). But in ancient times, the ability to read and write was a rare skill— mostly something that professional “scribes” were trained to do. The fact that Jesus and other Jews of that time might be more likely to be able to read than other peoples of the world, had a lot to do with the fact that the Jews were “people of the book”: their faith was handed down, in writing, from up to a thousand or more years earlier. The Jews, more than almost any group before them, wanted their community members to “write God’s words on their hearts,” so they carefully hand-copied and shared Scripture scrolls and codex-type books for teaching purposes.
If you haven’t already, I hope you someday get to experience the way that a Jewish synagogue gathering performs the presentation of the Torah scroll. Our local synagogue, Congregation Beth-El in Harrisonburg, has at least one community open-house Sabbath each year, when they invite everyone in the community to come and witness the way they worship. When the time comes in the service to read from the Scriptures, some members of the congregation open up a special cabinet in the front of the meeting room and very reverently take out the scrolls, which are beautifully “dressed” in cloth wrappings. There they go through a ritual of “undressing” the scrolls. Then, one or more members carry the scrolls around the room, coming near every person in the congregation, to give them an opportunity to reach out and touch their Holy Scriptures. It is considered a blessing….
But now for the part of Luke’s story that shocked the Jews in the Nazareth synagogue that day. Ordinarily, a reader in the synagogue might preach a bit, or say something about the ancient words of a Scripture lesson. But when Jesus read the words of the prophet Isaiah that day, he made the outrageous claim that Isaiah wrote the prophecy about him, Jesus.
As the rest of the story in Luke’s gospel unfolds, those who heard Jesus that day could not believe that God’s Spirit was right there with them, “in the flesh.” In fact, Jesus’ words enraged them.
Today, do you experience Jesus’ presence in the Good Book ? Do you experience him in the Spirit ? How about in the flesh, close enough to touch ?