by Ken Francis
(Based on Luke 4:14-21; Nehemiah 8)
In the last months and weeks leading up to the birth of our first child I realised that I’d better get serious about being a father. I wanted to be a great father – the best ever – and I wanted to get it right, right? So I did what most men do … no, actually, I did what most men won’t do: I got a manual. I got a book, actually. I can’t remember where, or why I chose this book, but its title was promising: it was called The Effective Father, by Gordon MacDonald.
It proved pretty effective, and, in fact, I referred to it often over the next twenty years. It worked through a series of chapters using a series of insightful metaphors, and one which stood out, and stands out to this day – which is why I’m labouring through this lengthy intro – was about ‘accepting the mandate’.
Bit of an unpopular word, ‘mandate’, in these times!
But MacDonald suggested that, obvious though it seems, many fathers – and I guess mothers too – don’t consciously accept the mandate of parenthood. They drift into it, become kind of accidental parents. It’s easy to become a father, wrote MacDonald, but much harder to be a father, so we need to thoughtfully embrace the task. Too many male parents, he wrote, and not enough effective fathers. And he called this taking of the role seriously, and responsibly, ‘accepting the mandate’.
We have to accept the mandate in lots of other ways, too. Everyone does, whether consciously or not. Sometimes my wife asks me to do a task that I have just no interest in doing. I inwardly groan and do my best to … not have heard her. And weeks or months can go by. Depending how much she hassles me. To actually get that task done – whether my heart’s in it or not – I have to embrace it in my psyche. Say, yep, I register that she wants me to do this. Ok. I’ll commit. I will address myself to the task first thing tomorrow, and I’ll … Get it? That’s accepting the mandate!
Epiphany … is a funny word. Not commonly used nowadays. I’ve only just been learning what it means. I previously thought having an epiphany was like having a brainwave. A ‘lightbulb’ moment. But epiphany, I’ve learned this past month, means a ‘revealing’ or a ‘manifestation’. A ‘coming out’, you might say, in modern parlance. The epiphany of Jesus the Christ had him revealed, first of all, as a baby, when the wise men visited him; then, at his baptism; then (as per last week) at the wedding of Cana; and today we’re looking at another ‘coming out’, when Jesus reveals himself as Messiah in his home town, Nazareth. Another epiphany.
I wondered why a person, particularly a Messiah, needs so many epiphanies. Shouldn’t one be enough? And then I saw the naivety of that. In a sense, Jesus was revealing, manifesting himself to a new group every time he spoke to a new group. To the Magi he was being revealed to the world, as it were. At his baptism he was being revealed as “my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”. In the Nazareth synagogue he reveals himself to his family and friends and townsfolk, and announces, “You can’t think of me as just the carpenter’s son any more. I’m actually the guy that these Scriptures in Isaiah – and all the other Prophets – are referring to.” His society was not best pleased, but he had to get it out there. These people hadn’t been at the Jordan, where he’d been baptised; or at Cana, at the wedding.
The timing is a bit problematic. Did this event happen before or after the wedding at Cana? Or even before or after his baptism? [The wedding at Cana is only related in the Gospel of John; this morning’s event only in Luke. The baptism comes to us in all Gospels, but in different sequences.] The question of timing is interesting though, because Jesus was conscious of timing – remember his comment to Mary at Cana, that “my hour has not yet come”? Quite often in the Gospels we hear Jesus saying his hour had not yet come (John 7:30, for example), and a couple of times he even announces “the hour has come” (notably in John 17).
What Dr Luke does tell us is, Jesus was baptised in the Jordan, north of Jerusalem, as a thirty-year-old; he immediately went into the wilderness, probably south of Jerusalem, to fast for forty days and to face various temptations; then immediately, at least in Luke’s telling, he turns up in the old home town, a long way north west of Jerusalem. Jesus was on a schedule, and he was very aware of what it was and where he was in it, and today, in Nazareth, he very much knows what he’s doing. He is coming out to his home town.
And another small piece of background: it turns out that it was common – a weekly custom, actually – for certain Scriptures to be read out in synagogues at certain times of the year. There was a Jewish calendar of readings, etc, just as we follow our lectionary in the Anglican Church – possibly initiated by that incident in the Book of Nehemiah, where the people of that day listened to the Scriptures read out and responded with such wild enthusiasm. Jesus would have known this, and I suspect he chose this particular Sabbath in Nazareth on purpose, where he could use this passage from the book of Isaiah to leverage this particular epiphany! Do you think?
I have another angle to bring to this reflection. It occurred to me that in standing up like this to announce himself to Nazareth – and, previously, to the crowd on the banks of Jordan – he was accepting the mandate! He realised he had an incredible cosmic responsibility, not unlike the of course less cosmic example of becoming a father or mother, that needed more than just a drift into it. He needed to embrace the task ahead of him, consciously; commit to it … in the public hearing. Not to do so might lead to half-heartedness; a being caught in two minds at key moments; a lack of commitment when it really mattered; and ultimate failure. He had to grasp the nettle, as we say – or accept the mandate – for his own sake as well as for we who have been redeemed …
A commitment, by the way, that he had to sternly and determinedly re-embrace quite often, at other times in his ministry … most markedly in the Garden of Gethsemane just before his execution.
And, by the way, I think this partly answers another question that has been wondered from this pulpit from time to time: before he commenced his ministry, did Jesus really understand who he was? If my thinking is correct, he probably did have an awareness of a special calling, but it was only at Jordan and then at Nazareth that he accepted the mandate, saying, “Yep! I accept this role that has been given to me. I consciously embrace it. I am the Messiah, promised in the Prophets and born to ensure the success of my Father’s plan of redemption. I now embrace it, and acknowledge it publicly.”
Does this strategic moment in the life and ministry of Jesus have anything to say to us here this morning in 2022?
Apart from it being a pretty fascinating story, I think it tells us a lot about Jesus’s calling, and hence ours, and it also shows us how he seized upon his task. Have you accepted your mandate? Do you have any inkling of the calling God has chosen you for? Have you ever stood up (in your heart of hearts) and said, “Yes, I embrace what Jesus did for me on the cross, I accept it personally, and I will change my life in whatever way necessary to fulfil the calling God seems to have placed on my life. I will serve him as best I can from now till death calls me home to him.”
Or do you need to accept the mandate again? And again? Because it’s not a once-for-all thing.
If you’ve never done this … today’s the day. Seize the moment.
This could be a new day for you.
And tell someone. Talk to someone in leadership here.