The gospel this week is the second half of Jesus’ presence in his hometown synagogue of Nazareth. Do you remember last week when Jesus is reading from the prophet Isaiah and says: ““The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” 20 Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. 21 He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
I would suggest to you that the people are pretty pumped up. After all, they have already heard about all the miracles and amazing things Jesus has already done. Now they have heard his gracious words! I suspect this might be typical of the inner dialogue of their collective minds: “Can you imagine? Our hometown boy has done good, he is blessed – and if he has done all that for other folks, can you imagine what great things, better things, he has in stored for us? Right? I mean, God has sent us a miracle worker and a prophet!” I am sure if this were more modern times there would be high-fives and fist-pumps.
Pretty quickly, Jesus puts a damper on their parade. He reminds them of two stories. One was about the prophet Elijah. When there was drought and famine in Israel, Elijah was sent to the gentile lands to a widow in Zarephath. And when there were lepers a plenty in Israel, the only one cured was not only a gentile, but the general of the enemy army – and that was by the prophet Elisha. The message is pretty clear in one respect: the blessings of God are for more than the hometown, Galilee, or Israel. The blessings of God are for all the people of the earth.
Jesus reminds them that, indeed, he is a prophet. And here is the thing about prophets; when they show up in your hometown it is generally not a good thing. Prophets do not predict the future – they remind you of the past, hold up the present, and then ask you to draw a conclusion. The dialogue is similar to this: (a) In the past when we were faithful to God and the covenant, there were blessings. When we had strayed from the covenant and did not turn to God, there were curses. Got it? With the covenant, blessings. Strayed from the covenant, curses. Pretty straightforward, right? (b) Let’s look at today. Are you faithful to the covenant – not just a little, or mostly, or here-and-there, or it depends? Are you faithful? Let me give you a clue. I am a prophet. I don’t show up when the answer is that you are faithful to the covenant. I am the two-minute warning that if you don’t change your way, curses are coming. But I am also the messenger that says God loves you, He does not rejoice over your wrongdoing, but rejoices with your faithfulness. He bears all things you do, believes all that you can become all things, hopes all things for you, and endures all things in the in between. You are loved…. But there is still the two-minute warning. (c) So here it is… change your ways and receive blessings. Don’t change your ways and get curses. It’s up to you.
As you heard in the Gospel, Jesus’ message is not so well received. The people were “all filled with fury” And were quite intent on tossing Jesus off the cliff.
So, that is a bit of bible study; good stuff and good to know. How will all that help shine the light of the Gospel into our lives? Consider our own encounters with the prophetic. Who or what shows up in your life and as a result you find yourself somewhere between uneasy and furious?
As pastor, what have I recently heard from people who are somewhere between uneasy and furious? In no particular order (in fact I made slips of paper and drew them from a hat): the “Black Lives Matter” movement, Pope Francis, taxes, Donald Trump/Hilary Clinton, gun control, homelessness, co-habitation before marriage, government social programs, death penalty, President Obama, red-light cameras, the US bishops who should stay out of politics (or aren’t doing enough), and … that I is what I could recall. There was something about these moments that made people uneasy or furious.
I think that for many of these and other important topics that weave and pour through our already complicated lives, we are just like the people in the synagogue in Nazareth. We have a desire, a hope, a dream that gets upset or overturned by a prophet or a prophetic moment. We react to our passion. The people in Nazareth did not take the time to engage in prayer, silence, fasting, and contemplation about the deeper things of their uneasiness or their fury. Even though they were pointed to Scripture to consider how they were being called to covenant, they did not consider God’s words. They began the walk down the path of anger and “those people are wrong, off with their heads.” They completely missed the prophetic moment.
We are approaching a time when passions rise with presidential politics. We are about to enter the holy season of Lent. Seems like a moment for this Gospel to shine boldly in our lives: (1) we will find ourselves uneasy and perhaps furious, (2) could these be prophetic moments? (3) will we take the time to engage in prayer, silence, fasting, and contemplation? (4) will we turn to Scripture? (5) will we think with the church? And will we remember Jesus’ message as a starting point: “he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
So…what topic makes you uneasy to furious? On that topic, NPR might be wrong, but that does not mean Fox News is right. What is always holy, true, and life-giving is the Good News, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Begin there and know the blessings of our loving God who believes, bears, endures, and hopes all things for us. Amen