Theme: Radical inclusiveness
Let us pray.
Most holy, Lord God, we are gathered here today to worship you in Trinity; your son is worthy of worship, yet, he was rejected by even his friends and relatives; may we do more than worship, but heed your word and change the world, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Last week, we heard about Jesus beginning his ministry in Galilee and only after his reputation increased did he return to his hometown of Nazareth. Jesus was in the local synagogue, read from Isaiah, and then gave a one sentence sermon that begins today’s gospel reading.
Jesus regularly worshipped. We can’t worship on the golf course. We can’t worship on a sailboat. We can’t worship in the woods. Jesus sought a community worshipping God. Jesus didn’t care if it was less than inspiring. Jesus didn’t care if it was wonderful. Jesus just sought out faithful people.
Isaiah’s vision of the fulfillment of God’s promises of Jubilee is fulfilled in the person of Jesus: The poor are lifted up at the expense of the rich. Those held against their will are freed. The blind see. Political prisoners are released. And it is Jesus that sees to it that all of this happens.
“The synagogue had lost its relevance to the everyday and was concerned about the cultivation of mind and soul through study and praise. Unfortunately, the synagogue has become the model for all too many Christian churches. We come together to improve ourselves, to learn, to grow, to think. There is nothing wrong with that, but if that is the end product there is something very wrong with it.
The men in the synagogue were amazed and surprised at what Jesus said. They know this guy! They watched him grow up. This is the carpenter’s son. He is acting above his station. He is impertinent.
Jesus could have let all of this doubt stay in the room, washing his hands of Nazareth, and move on to people who are more open to hearing what he needs to say. But Jesus didn’t take that path. Jesus confronts their narrow point of view.
What happens next is curious. Jesus anticipates that they will want to see the miracles Jesus performs in Capernaum. Only Jesus has yet to go to Capernaum. Before they can puzzle that statement out, Jesus continues his attack. “No prophet is liked in the prophet’s hometown.”
I was originally ordained locally in the congregation that called me. Some of the legal details I won’t get into here, but I will say that it was a restrictive ordination. One day I was a layperson and the next, I was a deacon. Then nine months later, I was a priest. Some of these people knew me as a teenager. Some knew me from parties. Well, you get the drift. Some changed their use of colorful language around me. Some saw me no differently than before. Some treated me as a traitor who went to “the other side.” “A prophet is not accepted in the prophet’s hometown.”
Jesus reminds them of the stories of the two great prophets in Israel’s history: Elijah and Elisha. During a famine Elijah stays not with an Israelite, but with a gentile widow, one of the most disenfranchised people in his society. Elisha didn’t heal Israelite lepers, but he did heal a gentile soldier of leprosy, one who went to war against Israel.
Well, the good men of Nazareth had heard enough. They grabbed Jesus, throwing him out of town. When you enter Nazareth from the Jezreel Valley, you see on your left from the main road a smallish cliff of limestone that gets bigger the further away from the road you look. The Holy Land has limestone outcroppings all over the hill country. Nazareth is at the top of a hill. It is this cliff that the crowd sought to throw Jesus off of. We are next told that Jesus gives them the slip. No explanation is given of how this was accomplished.
The congregation knows how they fit in a relationship with God. After all, the Jews are the chosen people. They are impressed with their homegrown hero. But as soon as they begin to ask questions about who Jesus is and how their knowledge of him jives with his growing reputation, Jesus launches a preemptive attack. “You haven’t, but you will ask for miracles,” with maybe a “you of little faith” under his breath.
Then comparing himself with the great prophets of old, Jesus tells them that they are not so special after all. Like those prophets, Jesus has not come to tell his village that they are God’s special people. Rather, Jesus has come to the gentiles saying to the Nazarenes, “And oh, by the way, you are not so great.”
They wanted to hear a word of God. They got a tongue lashing. They may have wanted to see God making things new through a miracle or two. They got rejection. Why would their friend, just as he is getting famous, reject them? They were probably as hurt as they were angry.
What Jesus is really telling them is that they don’t have exclusive access to God. God goes to those whom they do not associate with. God’s agenda is for all humankind, not just a small subset of humanity. Jesus is calling them to be inclusive of all people. They were not ready for that message and they were not going to put up with a lecture by a carpenter’s son.
“The good news is that the life God offers us in Jesus Christ is here and now and calls for a response. You can’t wait until you’re more ready. We have no future. We have no past in the gestalt sense. The past is over and our memory of it is selective and untrustworthy. All of our past and all of our future is now. Now is all we have.”
Jesus’ message is for any assembly today: Jewish, Moslem, Christian, or any other one. Jesus’ message is for our assembly here gathered. We do welcome all who come here. When a homeless person is offered and served food at coffee hour, I am so proud. But Jesus gives us a warning to never let our guard down. There is no “other” in God’s eyes.
Ralph Milton asks to think of a similar scenario. A young person in our church – a young person with assorted hardware in his or her face, is the lector that Sunday, and reads one of the passages about the return of the Messiah. Then this young person looks out at the congregation and with a perfectly straight face says, “I’m it, folks. I’m the Messiah these guys were talking about. And you know something else? God cares more about the HIV positive drunk lying on the street and the malaria infected African pauper, than about you.”
In our congregation at least, people would mutter about getting a shirt with very long sleeves and a well-padded cell in which this young person could proclaim the rest of her/his message. But we wouldn’t do that, of course. We’d just freeze the kid out. In Jesus’ time, they were not as sophisticated and tried to toss him off a cliff.
So let’s not get too hard on the Synagogue leaders in Nazareth. Their response was perfectly understandable, and probably the same as yours and mine would be. And it’s also possible Jesus was a little naïve to expect the leaders of the Nazareth Synagogue to welcome him with open arms.
We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, give us the gift of radical openness to any and all people, whereby we may lead by example the gospel of love, through Jesus Christ our Lord and teacher. Amen.
Text: Luke 4:21–30 (NRSV)
21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’ ” 24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.