By The Rev. Sherry Deets
4 Epiphany – February 3, 2013
So in the fourth chapter of Luke’s gospel, when those who thought they knew him because they had known him his whole life said of Jesus, “Is this not Joseph’s son,” the answer is no, actually, this is not Joseph’s son. This person you thought you knew is God’s son. And that changes everything.
When Jesus read the passage from Isaiah about bringing good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, etc., he meant it. When he announced that today this scripture had been fulfilled in their hearing, he meant it. When he proclaimed the restoration of the just and equitable society that God had intended, he meant it. Jesus wasn’t speaking in vague terms about some nice idea put down in scripture a few hundred years ago; he was bringing the scripture home to them, up close and personal. Too close and too personal for comfort.
He brought up those awkward stories from the bible when God had blessed those outside the covenant, seemingly at the expense of those inside. Why was Elijah sent to a starving widow in Sidon rather than a starving widow in Israel? Why was a Syrian leper cleansed rather than an Israelite leper? These were stories the people in Nazareth probably avoided, because they challenged their comfortable ideas of their special status with God. They didn’t want to think about the just and equitable society that God intended including people like that widow and that leper. Because a truly just and equitable society as God intends requires everyone working to make it a just and equitable society. Justice and equality don’t happen in a vacuum; everyone must work together to put the needs of the other as equally important as their own needs, if not more so. And those people didn’t deserve such treatment. They could take care of themselves; the people of Nazareth were only concerned with their own.
Except Jesus had other ideas. He wasn’t Joseph’s son; he was God’s son. He wasn’t concerned just with Joseph’s people; he was concerned with God’s people. All of them. The Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he was anointed to bring good news to the poor. All the poor. And release to all the captives. And recovery of sight to all the blind. And to let all the oppressed go free. And to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor to all. And that comfortable and familiar passage read by someone they were comfortable and familiar with suddenly required something uncomfortable and unfamiliar from the people of Nazareth. They lost sight of the promise in those words, that they too were released from their captivity and oppression, and that the year of the Lord’s favor was upon them, too. They focused instead on the anger and betrayal they felt at finding out that that favor wasn’t going to happen the way they wanted it to. So just as Jesus proclaimed recovery of sight to the blind, they chose to blind themselves to the truth of God’s abundant love and grace. And they were so committed to their blindness that they didn’t even see Jesus pass through their midst and continue on his way as they tried to throw him off a cliff for daring to upset their comfortable and familiar ways.
In the movie Open Range, two cowboys are burying one of their friends and their dog that have been killed by a ruthless gang of murderers who object to what was known as “free grazing.” As they say words over the graves, they openly express their anger toward God for allowing this to happen.
When tragedy strikes we tend to ask the same question. It is as old as human history itself. Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? But more often than not, God’s seeming absence in the face of such things is not what makes us the angriest. It’s God’s mercy that really stirs us up, especially when we see it doled out to those we think are undeserving of it. God’s grace is too big, too wide. It encompasses people we don’t like or understand, who do not share our faith or religious understandings or culture or language. The easiest solution for us is to reject them and turn them away, like the people in Nazareth did to Jesus that day.
The most insightful line in our riveting account from Luke is the last. Luke tells us that Jesus “passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” It was not yet time for the screaming, blood-thirsty mob to have its say, so Jesus slipped through their hands. He does the same with you and me when we think we can have him all to ourselves.
Rejection is not God’s solution. God wraps his arms around those who do not even acknowledge him, and offers them the same grace he extends to you and me. If we are to be active participants in his kingdom, we need to realize that God calls us to be partners with him in such a divine endeavor. He would have us include everyone in our invitation to the kingdom. So, what will be our response?
Scripture is old, it is challenging, and it is 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. Hear the word of the Lord. Let your 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, shall we go out into the world live according to that promise? Or should we just head straight for the nearest cliff, instead? Amen.
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