4th Sunday after the Epiphany Year C
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?”
The last time our son Jackson was home and played piano for our Celtic service a few years ago, I heard similar gracious words as these about Jesus – “you must be so proud; isn’t that Laurie and Stan’s son? My, how he’s grown up!” Of course Jackson didn’t read a prophecy from the Hebrew scriptures and proclaim himself to be it’s fulfillment!
But what would happen if Jackson came home, and everyone had heard how he had played Shostakovich’s 2nd piano concerto for his graduation concert and wanted to hear him play it here at Grace, but Jackson said, “No, I’m not going to play here. A musician is not welcome in his hometown.” People would probably be a little miffed, I know his parents would!
Jesus has come home to Nazareth after being gone for a while. He has recently been baptized by that fanatic John the Baptist in the Jordan river along with thousands of others who travelled out to the wilderness to see the crazy man act like he was Elijah and preach to everyone about how they needed to repent before the “day of the Lord” arrived.
And now Jesus has shown up proclaiming he is the embodiment of the prophecy he has just read from Isaiah:
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.
Jesus tells his family and friends gathered for worship in their local synagogue, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Wait a minute – you mean to tell me that little Jesus kid, who used to play dreidel with my kids and got lost in the Jerusalem temple when he was 12 - that kid is who Isaiah was talking about? Come on, we know the family. They’re just like us. How could their kid be the anointed one?
Notice how quickly the people turn on Jesus, going from adoring admirers to wanting to kill him, all in a matter of a few minutes. And what precipitates this great reversal? Well, it is the words of Jesus, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, heal yourself, do here what we’ve heard you have done elsewhere.” Except, Jesus says, no prophet is accepted in their hometown. It seems that Jesus is anticipating the congregation’s objections.
Then recalling two episodes in the life of the nation of Israel when God acted on behalf of those who were not members of their clan, Jesus further alienates the crowd by saying in effect, God cares as much for the outsiders as for you who are God’s chosen people. Both of Jesus’ examples are of non-Jewish foreigners, even enemies of the Hebrew people.
Peter Gomes, the former Chaplain at Harvard states: “the people take offense not so much with what Jesus Jesus claims about himself, as with the claims that he makes about a God who is more than their tribal deity.”
The people in the congregation may have mumbled out loud to themselves, “I remember when he was just a snotty-nosed kid! Who does he think he is? And wasn’t there something suspicious about his birth anyway?”
The two stories Jesus tells, about the widow of Zarephath and the Syrian army general, Naaman, are both punctuated by Jesus’ use of the phrase, “none of them,” referring to the fact that God provided miracles for these two outsiders but not for the Israelites who were also in need. So what does that tell us about the God Jesus is revealing to them and us?
Jesus’ announcement that Isaiah’s prophecy was now fulfilled in their hearing, meant that God was indeed still God, bringing God’s promises to fulfillment in the person of Jesus but not in the way they had expected, just like God acted in the lives of these two foreign unbelievers in Elijah and Elisha’s day. God has always meant for God’s people to be beacon’s of God’s light to the whole world, but the Jews had lost sight of their calling. God was not theirs and no one else’s. God had chosen them so that they could demonstrate who God is in their collective lives to the world.
And the same is true for us today. God has called us to be the body of Christ in the world, to be God’s representatives, to welcome the outsider and participate in the new thing God is doing in Jesus.
The point of Jesus’ challenge to his hometown in Luke was to break open people’s complacency and enlarge their experience of who God is. God is not our private deity that exists to do as we want and be a cosmic bellhop. God’s perspective is much, much bigger than that. I am mostly concerned about me, but God is just as loving towards my enemy as God is toward me.
As David Ostendorf says, “The God we proclaim and worship will not be domesticated, “homebound,” shut in, confined by our temples, and stagnated by our stories. God does not quietly accept our own well-worn narratives, smoothed over and sweetened by complacency and comfort. Jesus comes into our midst and declares that the scriptures have been fulfilled in him, through him. Then he goes on to create a new narrative that is ours to follow and to re-create.”
As we affirm this new narrative in our own lives, may we know the fullness of life and the depth of God’s promise in Jesus, and the empowerment of God’s Spirit to share the love of God with our family and friends and neighbors as well as the stranger because we know that God’s love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.