Jan. 30, 2022 Third Sunday After Epiphany The text is Luke 4:21-30.
21 Then [Jesus] began to say to [all in the synagogue in Nazareth,] “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.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen
Welcome to “Jesus in the Synagogue”, part two. Last Sunday, Jesus stood to read from the book of Isaiah during the Sabbath in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. He proclaimed the inauguration of his ministry and announced that the anticipated prophesy of Isaiah was fulfilled in himself. You may recall that Jesus told the assembly that his mission to secure the release of the captives, the return of sight to the blind, and the freedom from oppression that Isaiah prophesied were fulfilled “today”.
And, at that point, all seemed well; but you may remember that we read last week that things took a dire turn almost immediately, and this morning we read that Jesus clarifies his ministry somewhat, and the people respond by threatening to throw him off a cliff. Well, it didn’t take long for the initial amazement and graciousness to transform into attempted murder. We have to wonder what caused such a complete reversal in the way people responded to Jesus’ proclamation of freedom for those under oppression; not to mention the granting of sight to blind persons. Well, this may be partly explained by Jesus making the point that he anticipated that his neighbors were likely going to request that he perform the miracles and healings he had done in other places there in Nazareth, and that they might feel entitled to some special attention. And, as is typical of Jesus’ entire mission, he gives two examples of how his ministry will progress; and he cites the work of two of Israel’s greatest prophets, Elijah and Elisha. Both of these attended to the needs of people who were not part of Israel, a Sidonian and a Syrian.
It seems that Jesus was intent on letting the people of his hometown know that he wasn’t planning to constrain his mission to just the local populace. The Good News Isaiah spoke of and that is fulfilled in Jesus will not be confined to Nazareth, or the wider region of Galilee; it will not be limited to Israel either. His ministry to bring relief to the marginalized will encompass the entire world. The people in his hometown shouldn’t expect to be the recipients of “Nazareth Miracles”; in spite of his status as “local boy made good” Jesus plans to bring the Gospel to everyone, and to everywhere. That’s when the crowd turns on him; it seems that the Good News of healing, release, and salvation is fine, but they feel they are more entitled to these than everyone else. Their selfishness is expressed with anger; “Well, if you’re not going to give us special treatment, if you plan to heal the rest of the world before us, I guess then we’ll just have to kill you”. This sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It seems that every time Jesus reaches out to marginalized folks, someone takes offense. So much so, that at the end the religious authorities follow through on the threat made by these neighbors of his in the Nazareth synagogue; Jesus is eventually crucified for ministering to people in need. It just so happened that it wasn’t done in the way that the temple priests and Pharisees demanded it should.
The main problem those who knew Jesus growing up faced, as they selfishly thought of themselves as special, was that they neglected to see themselves as the “other”; those who were outside of their tight little circle. The second misconception was that they also forgot that they were indeed the very same unworthy ones whom Jesus sought to set free, to release from their prisons, to restore their sight. They didn’t think to ask themselves what it might be that they were unable to see, what might be the issues of their day that they were, in a way blind to. Some of them may have chosen not to accept that they were imprisoned by their close-mindedness, or biases, or their inability to recognize that their actions, or lack of them relegated them to a state of emotional confinement. In the Isaiah scroll which Jesus read to the synagogue which we heard last week, the bible translation we Lutherans use, tells of the prophet’s intent to “let the oppressed go free”. In the contemporary version of “The Message”, this is translated as, “set the burdened and battered free”. If only those in the synagogue took the time to reflect on this, they might have realized that it was them, and frankly all of us who are the ones battered and burdened.
“Just perform signs and miracles for us, because we’ve known you since childhood, and we’re entitled to special consideration from you, Jesus”. Things would probably gone differently for the Nazarenes if they had only recognized that they weren’t going to receive special treatment because they were from Jesus’ hometown, but rather that they were a part of the larger community of humankind that Jesus sought to unburden. It seems to me that they were concerned with what they wanted, rather than what they needed, and they apparently didn’t know the difference. “We’re special, so if you don’t do for us what we want, we will go so far as to murder you”. This would have ended quite differently if they had said instead, “just like the rest of the wider world, we acknowledge that we are broken, sinful people and we need you, we need the Good News which you bring from God the Father”. “And, by the way, we’re fine if you bless others in the same way you are a blessing to us”.
Perhaps we ought to ask ourselves how we would have reacted were we sitting in the synagogue in Nazareth when Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah. Would we have gone along with the multitude in condemning Jesus’ perceived slight of the hometown crowd?
Or would we have had the self-awareness to recognize our selfishness, shortsightedness, and prejudices against everyone and everything outside of our own community? Would we have accepted that the needs of others that Jesus reached out to, are the same as our own? Every gathering of God’s people faces these same questions; how do we serve our neighbors, those outside our walls, while ensuring we don’t neglect the needs of those already among us?
While many faith communities are declining in membership and the culture continues to feel that houses of worship may have outlived their usefulness, those mosques, synagogues, and churches that are thriving are the ones that have been able to adequately answer these very questions. The opening of people’s eyes to the needs of those on the inside as well as beyond the walls of buildings; the easing of those things that burden and batter God’s children, both in and out there; the release from the emotional weights that people bear, those we call our church family and those that afflict our neighbors. Let us all strive to develop creative ways to reach out as Jesus did, to those closest to us as well as those we haven’t even met yet. We should rejoice in the knowledge that Jesus’ proclamation of the Good News applies to each and every one of God’s people; if Jesus’ boyhood friends had done that they certainly would have thought twice before attempting to throw him off the cliff. Let’s make sure we don’t fall into the same misunderstanding of the Word.
ill you pray with me? Good, and gracious, and Holy God, you have sent your Son as the Good News of your will for all the world to benefit from the salvation he brings. Help us to keep in perspective the relationships we have with one another nearby and with the wider world; all are blessed by your grace and mercy. And we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the One who ministers to all the world; the captive, the burdened, and those who are too blind to see.
God is Good, all the time. All the time, God is Good. Amen.