|Epiphany 4C – February 3, 2013Jeremiah 1:4-10 – Call of Jeremiah. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy… You will go where I send you. Do not be afraid, I am with you.”
Psalm 71:1-6 – In you, Lord I take refuge, let me never be put to shame. Be my rock.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13– The love chapter. After I Cor. 12 Paul says he will show a more excellent way. Paul says without love, even faith isn’t enough.
Luke 4:21-30 – Jesus in his hometown synagogue, part 2. He almost gets thrown off a cliff. No prophet is without honor, except in his own hometown.
Homecoming 2: Today this Scripture Has Been Fulfilled
Last week we read about the kickoff of Jesus ministry after his baptism and time in the wilderness. He heads up to Galilee, where he arrives at his hometown congregation and reads from Isaiah 61:
“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.”
Today’s gospel reading continues that story with the words Jesus said after he sat down. “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
At first the hometown folks are impressed. Amazed even, Luke tells us. Wow. “Isn’t this Joseph’s kid?”
Thomas E. Boomershine ruminates on these stories at gotell.org, a website dedicated to biblical storytelling for a global village: http://gotell.org/pdf/commentary/Luke/Lk04_21-30_commentary.pdf
Boomershine says Jesus’ listeners believe the kingdom of God means Israel will be comforted and Israel’s enemies will be destroyed. In other words: “We” will win. “They” will get their comeuppance. Jesus then goes on to make a point. The kingdom isn’t just for them. It’s much, much bigger. To illustrate the point he brings up two stories his listeners know well, one about Elijah and one about Elisha.
Elijah feeds the widow of Zarephath, who previously fed him (1 Kings 17). Zarephath is a Syro-Phoenician town in Sidon, along the Mediterranean Sea. In other words, she is a Gentile woman. Jesus begins with a story about God blessing a Gentile. It is as if Jesus is taunting them by saying, “There were plenty of widows in Elijah’s day, but God sent Elijah to one, a Gentile. So just put that in your pipe and smoke it for a bit.”
Then, in case they’ve missed his point, he went on and brought up Elisha and Namaan, another Gentile. Namaan was the Syrian general who had leprosy. Elisha tells him to go bathe in the Jordan River. At first Namaan balks: “Are not Syria’s rivers good enough?” In time, however, he is convinced, and indeed does go bathe in the Jordan as Elisha instructed. He is healed. Once, again, God’s healing and blessing falls upon the Gentiles. God is breaking in to bring healing to the enemies of Israel.
Jesus listeners don’t like it. They are so offended they want to throw him off a cliff.
Imagine standing on the steps of the South Carolina State Capitol in, say, 1860, and saying God had sent you to proclaim freedom to the African slaves. This is not an exact metaphor of course, but you get the point. Jesus’ hometown folks were enraged by his audacity. He seemed like such a nice boy…
And so we get a sense of Jesus’ radical gospel from the outset. It means salvation and healing for all, even our enemies. Jesus’ people respond with rage. His life is in mortal danger. He finds a way to get out of it. For now.
How will our people respond upon hearing that God loves Muslims and Hindus every bit as much as Christians? How will they respond to the good news that God loves those in prison? That God desperately loves the poor? How will we respond upon discovering that God is about reconciliation and healing, not just for our tribe, but for all nations?
This Jesus will put us out of our comfort zone, make us squirm. And I think to myself, if our congregations aren’t squirming a little bit (or maybe a lot), then perhaps we haven’t fully conveyed the Good News.