In today’s Gospel, Jesus goes back to the synagogue where he grew up, and they invite him to be the one who reads and expounds the Bible. There’s some dispute about whether Jesus chose what he read, or whether it was simply the lectionary for that week. (Not to be too technical, but while we know there were Jewish lectionaries, dating them is very tricky.) So maybe he chose this passage or maybe it was assigned. But at any rate, Jesus opens the scroll to Isaiah 61, and he reads as follows:
"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."
There must have been something about the way he read it, because Luke tells us that the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. It was one of those moments where you just know that something extraordinary is happening. And the very first line of Jesus’ sermon, as a colleague of mine commented this week, is the ultimate mic-drop: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
An epiphany is a revelation, a light bulb going off. And revelations are transformative. By their very design, revelations refuse to leave you in the same place, doing the same stuff, thinking the same things. Otherwise, they would just be reminders. And revelations are not reminders. A revelation, an epiphany, has no precedent in what you had once accepted as normal. Indeed, they come to challenge and disrupt precisely what you accept as normal. Epiphanies make you rush back to your schedule, your agenda, your relationships, your life story itself because you must have missed something. Surely there has been some mistake. A revelation reconfigures the coordinates, redraws the map, scrambles the data. And you can only proceed according to the terms that it establishes for you. It transforms you into a witness, maybe not the most reliable one at times, but a witness nonetheless.
This need not be all spiritual and religious, so let’s bring it down to earth. There are any number of epiphanies like this that we can think of. September 11th. The assassination of JFK. Tragedies unfortunately can come to mind the quickest. But any event that no matter how many years have passed you can still remember exactly where you were and what you were doing counts as an epiphany. Because to remember exactly where you were and what you were doing is to be a witness. Those events transformed you.
King Herod spent part of the decades before Jesus was born supervising a construction project. Unlike us, he wasn’t putting a slate roof on or getting structural repairs made to an existing property – no, he was building a magnificent fortress retreat south of Jerusalem. Herod’s administration was known for huge building campaigns, actually, but this one beat them all. For starters, he installed a man-made mountain; he then followed it with a 7-story palace, a complete Roman bath, a massive penthouse guest suite, an outdoor theatre, and a swimming pool large enough for small-craft sailing.
Herod named the complex after himself – Herodium – and gave instructions that he was to be buried there. Which he eventually was, after a thirty-day funeral procession with a solid gold bier. Archeologists have been excavating the site, and they found King Herod’s sarcophagus in 2007. It’s pink.