I always find it entertaining when the opportunity to use Greek in a Sunday School class presents itself. This is, ultimately, because I’m an incorrigible nerd at heart. I’m always smitten with the visceral energy of the Greek text in the New Testament–some of it is academic, learned, subtle, while some is in-your-face, plain as day, even ham-fisted.
We were discussing the Gospel reading for the day in a Lambeth format–reading different translations of the passage, then reflecting on words, images, phrases, and inclinations that the text draws out or that stand out to the readers. We entered into a discussion on the variant translations of Jesus’ little zinger at the end of his first sermon in Nazareth (Luke 4): “has been fulfilled” versus “is fulfilled” versus “comes true” (one of the translations was the Message). On a whim I pulled up the NA28 on my phone–the word in question was πεπλήρωται, peplerontai. Okay, so it’s perfective aspect (and honestly both “has been fulfilled” and “is fulfilled” are good translations). The discussion was about verb aspect. But what I caught onto was not the aspect of the verb, as is so often the case in matters of subtle exegesis, but rather the verb itself, πληρόω, plero’o, “to fill,” tied into that wonderful idea of πληρώμα, pleroma, the idea of fullness–overabundant, overflowing, excessive fullness. Loosen-your-belt-and-unbutton-your-pants fullness. We hear this word as part of the wonderful line in Colossians 2, where Paul speaks of Christ “For in Him all the fullness of deity dwells bodily.” Paul is big on pleroma, if you haven’t noticed.
And I think pleroma is a good thing to be stuck on, if you ask me. Notice at the beginning of today’s pericope (Luke 4:14): Jesus is “filled with the power of the Spirit” at the outset of his ministry. He has just done his time in fasting and prayer in the wilderness, and is crossing the threshold from obscurity into his public ministry, one which will ultimately lead in his death and resurrection. But the first thing, the very first thing, that we hear when St. Luke speaks of Jesus’ ministry is that it begins with fullness. Fullness of what? Fullness of the power of the Spirit. But the fullness-of-spirit out of which Jesus speaks overflows into the fullness of the promises he proclaims–and proclaims fulfilled–from the lectern in the synagogue on, what was by all accounts, a typical Saturday in a sleepy town in the sticks.
Fullness comes sweetly and subtly, and in the places we least expect it. And what does fullness of the Spirit beget? The reversal of societal ills, the restoration of bodies, the creation of life out of death. This is the promise that Jesus fulfills in affirming the calling and anointing on his life to preach good news to the poor, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to give sight to the blind, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. This is Jesus’ inaugural address–elected for this work by the Father he lays his hand on the scroll of the Prophet and is sworn in by the testimony of the Spirit. The Kingdom shows up in a dinky little synagogue.
It doesn’t take any amount of heady mental gymnastics to realize that, as members of Christ’s body on earth today, we are tasked with continuing the work that he proclaimed. Who are the poor who need good news preached to them? Who are the captives to be set free? Who are the blind whose eyes will be opened? And where does the year of the Lord’s favor need to be announced so that all the gracious fullness of the Spirit may dwell in and around those with whom we cross paths, restoring them to life, liberty, and the pursuit of peace? And how shall we ourselves be filled with grace? Eugene Peterson remarks in his book Practice Resurrection that grace is like water, and works are like vessels to transport that grace: every touch, every prayer, every meal, every cup, is another vessel of grace gradually filling us up ever more into the fullness of the Spirit. And we may fill others up with grace just the same.