4 Epiphany – January 30, 2022
Today’s gospel is a continuation of last week’s story with Jesus saying, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And it all started off really well. All spoke well of him and were amazed at his gracious words. And then, the atmosphere changed dramatically. The crowd that had been adoring this hometown man, turned into an angry mob that wanted to throw him off a cliff.
What happened? Well, the reality is that Jesus kind of did this to himself. Right? Let’s look at the story.
When we left Jesus last week, things looked pretty good. He was center stage in the midst of an adoring crowd, reading a beautiful passage from the prophet Isaiah about good news for the poor, freedom for the prisoner, sight for the blind, and justice for the oppressed. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed on him, impressed by his gracious words and authoritative bearing. Wasn’t this Joseph’s boy? The carpenter’s kid with the iffy birth story? Who would have thought he’d grow up to become a healer! A preacher! A miracle worker! He was their very own rising star.
It’s actually not very difficult to imagine our way into the townspeople’s point of view. Who knows how long they’d been waiting to welcome Jesus home? To see for themselves the wonders they’d heard about via the grapevine? That the heavens opened up in Jesus’s presence. That water turned into wine. That diseases disappeared and demons scattered to oblivion. They must have thought, if their hometown boy was willing to peddle miracles to perfect strangers “out there,” well, then he’d do a hundredfold back here at home, right? Among his kin. His insiders. His favorites.
But they turned out to be dead wrong. The story turns at the point where Jesus, himself, refuses to go home in the ways that matter most to his townspeople. He refuses to be at home. To stay at home. To allow his home to define him. Everything goes wrong when Jesus essentially says, “I am not yours. I don’t belong to you. I am not yours to claim or contain.”
He does this by citing God’s long history of prioritizing the outsider, the foreigner, the stranger. Elijah was sent to care for the widow at Zarephath, he reminds them. He wasn’t sent to the widows of Israel. Elisha was instructed to heal Naaman the Syrian, not the numerous lepers in Israel. In other words, God has been in the business of working on the margins. Of crossing borders. Of doing new and exciting things in remote and unlikely places. Far from home. Far from the familiar and the comfortable. Far from the centers of power and piety.
If Luke’s account is accurate, then it does seem that Jesus is the one who pushes his own people away in this story. He is the one who rejects their version of welcome. He is lovingly challenging them. Speaking the truth in love. Jesus did this by pointing to history. Not the history they were used to hearing – a history of God choosing them as a special people, of God delivering them over and over again – but instead pointing out the times when God chose the outsider, when God delivered the outcast.
You know, sometimes it’s really hard to hear the truth. Even if it’s truth spoken in love. Jesus’s hometown sermon was far from the harshest thing to ever come out of his mouth; after all, this is the man who said, “Get behind me, Satan,” to one of his closest friends. And so I wonder, what makes the difference for us? What determines when I can hear and handle the hard truth and at other times I can’t?
For some reason, this reminds me of stained-glass windows and kaleidoscopes. We have some beautiful stained-glass windows right here in our Trinity sanctuary and we know they’re made by piecing together various sizes, shapes and colors to create a beautiful design or picture. They are, and I quote, a “beautiful, broken-glass vision of God’s messianic purposes for grace and justice in Jesus”.
A broken glass vision for grace and justice in Jesus.
And then there are kaleidoscopes. Those tubes that you hold up to the light, with reflectors inside that reflect the colored pieces of glass at one end. And when you rotate the tube…the rotation causes the pieces of glass, or other material, to move resulting in an ever-changing view being presented. A beautiful, colorful, broken-glass vision that is ever changing.
Jesus tells us the hard truth today that God is present and available for all people, not just a select group. Jesus performed many signs and miracles for those of us living on the margins, for those considered outcasts. Jesus is asking us to open our eyes wide to see, to truly see, the broken-glass vision of God. Maybe we represent those various pieces of broken glass out here in the world, that when we are pieced together, we create a beautiful mosaic vision of our life in community. A vision of grace and justice in Christ, an ever-changing vision. It is often difficult to see separately, but when we’re pieced together, the vision becomes clearer.
Hearing the truth is often hard. But Jesus also promised that it would set us free. Scripture is old, it is challenging, and it can seem dangerous. But it’s dangerous in the same way that leaving your mother’s womb and taking your first breath of air is dangerous. It’s scary, it’s overwhelming, and it’s filled with such promise that the possibilities can’t even begin to be comprehended. Today, let’s hear the words of our Lord. Let our eyes be opened to God’s truth, and recognize the abundance of God’s grace and mercy in the world, that he could even love and forgive a room full of sinners like us. Imagine what the world would look like if we all worked for the just and equitable society that God intends.
They may have been written a few thousand years ago, but the words of Isaiah were true when he wrote them, they were true when Jesus read them in his home synagogue, and they’re true now.
“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 this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”. Now, what do we do with that truth? What do we do with those colored pieces of glass? Shall we go out into the world to live, today, now, according to that promise, that vision? Or should we just head straight for the nearest cliff, instead?
May we be brave enough to hear Jesus’ words of truth. Amen.