These remain difficult days if you are a conservative MP and especially if you are one Boris Johnson. Partygate seems to be derailing any credibility that the Government once had in abundance and it is making it very hard for the Prime Minister to exercise the power attributed to his office. When trust is blown, it is hard to regain. When the nation has been unable to gather for funeral and fun in the way we would have liked to throughout the pandemic, assuming that the allegations are true, Partygate has shot the trust that some, maybe many, had in the PM and the Government and has left a question - did and do the Government have the interests of the many or the few at heart? It seems that power given
can only be exercised within a locus of trust.
From the end of chapter three of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is given power to exercise - empowered by the Holy Spirit at his Baptism by John; he is sent by the same Spirit into the desert where the use of his power is tested; he is then sent, as we hear this morning, not to a Government building or palace, by the Spirit to use this divine gift - but home. Amongst his closest family and friends. Back to the normal and humdrum.
Now, having spent a weekend last weekend with my closest family at my parents’ home, it has not gone unnoticed to me that, back in that context I assume the role I always did growing up - I’m the joke teller; confident in and to my mother; the one who gets irritated by my father. We all slip into those roles in that sort of context like putting on a pair of comfy slippers. How will Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, speak and act here?
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read… On Friday night, following the announcement of the death of the musician and actor Meatloaf, Alex and I decided to watch the film ‘Fight Club’ in which he has a starring role. The premise of the film is a group of disenfranchised men - numbed by menial jobs, the lure and lie of a capitalism that promises satisfaction in more stuff - get together to bare-knuckle fight in small, dark basements, and in so doing learn how to feel again. Soon their fight becomes far bigger, but I won't say more. Archaeology has recently helped us understand that the synagogue that Jesus went home to may have been more like a dark and dank basement than one of our churches. The recently rediscovered one at Migdal (where Mary Magdalene may have come from) was small 8 meters by 7 meters with stone benches around the walls - the size of a large lounge or basement. It had more in common with a boxing ring than a barn of a church.
You can hear the chatter - who’s this coming to read? It’s Joseph's lad. Well, he left the family in the lurch didn’t he? The place will have been fizzing with the electricity of attention and expectation - all these men huddled together listening hard. Jesus reads and interprets words from what we know as Isaiah 62 and tells them that when they’ve heard is to be fulfilled in Jesus the one reading. Amen? Asks Jesus. Amen? It is so… Silence and disbelief add to the melting pot of emotion as Jesus sits down next to Malachai on the bench.
The power Jesus has been given by the Holy Spirit, unlike what partygate may suggest, is not self-serving but self-giving (and a I paraphrase Jesus’ words) - to bring hope to the hopeless; to let those who are bound by habit and addiction that they can be free to live; to help those blinded to see the world clearly, and to free those trapped by oppressive politics and greed.
No wonder there was stunned silence. But a silence of anticipation, of expectation; of knowing that something was afoot here; that change could come; that hope was real again and there for the taking.
Empowered by the same Spirit, Jesus calls us with him indwelling us, to live out his manifesto - how can we together bring hope to the hopeless in our neighbourhoods? How can we ensure that those trapped by habit or addiction are liberated to really live? How can we enable our neighbours to see our community and those in it clearly in love? How can we play a part to see those trapped by greed and debt to be free? This is Jesus’ manifesto. It is a powerful mandate for the many not the few - we are called, inspired, filled with the Spirit to pray it and to live it.