Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Year C, 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home
The Gospel lesson today is the continuation of the story for last week, where Jesus takes a scroll of the writings of the Prophet Isaiah and reads them in the synagogue of his home town. As we continue on in this story we hear a very commonly quoted phrase, “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town” and Jesus preaches a bit more. Then of course, as we have come to expect, the people who have been there to hear his preaching try to throw him off a cliff. Just so we’re clear, that is not an acceptable way to lodge complaints about anyone’s preaching.
I have to admit that this is a passage that I have not paid as close attention to in the past as I should have. I have always assumed that the reading of the scroll, the proclamation that the prophecy is fulfilled is what angers people. The way this story is written in other Gospels it also seems that Jesus’ familiarity with the people is to blame for his inability to perform miracles. But taking another look at this, I’m not actually so sure that familiarity is the problem when it comes to a prophet in their own town. In fact I think there is something far more simple to explain what happens and clearly in Luke’s telling it is Jesus’ preaching and interpreting after the scripture reading that has fully angered the people.
Every preacher seems safe to stick to reciting scripture, but people don’t always like being reminded of what scripture actually says in full. That’s where things go awry here. I can imagine the scene at the Synagogue in Nazareth. Jesus, the local home town boy, ‘the son of Joseph’ as some have exclaimed, shows up in synagogue to read and teach. The folks in his home town have been hearing about Jesus! They have heard about the miracles he is performing, the work he is doing in the exercise of his ministry. They have pride in that the child they’ve watched grow up, the kid they probably had to put up with from time to time. In fact I don’t think it’s a far stretch to imagine they have some sense of ownership. This is THEIR Jesus. Surely he will bring his best miracles for them then. Surely they get some honor for having been the proverbial village to raise a child.
But that is not the case. Jesus either sees what they are expecting or might have already been asked by folks to perform miracles. Instead he refers to two stories of Elija and Elisha when God specifically shows that God’s grace and miracles are not just for a select few. Jesus uses this illustration to press the point that just because he is from that town does not mean these people should feel special or get any accolades. In fact these examples are extremely far to the other end of the spectrum. These stories from Jesus illustrate times when the ‘chosen people’ of Israel were suffering, and the prophets bring miracles to non-Jews. Jesus makes clear that the foreigner, the stranger is just as worthy of being blessed, and though I am extrapolating a bit here I think it also shows that those closest to God are tasked more with the work of the Kingdom than the benefits. Jesus certainly makes clear that his message is not just for the chosen, but for all. Jesus is clear that what is being offered is offered to those farthest from who we think it should be offered, those outside of our circles.
The continuation of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we hear, probably one of the most well known passages from it’s use at weddings, underscores our work as Christians to the world. This passage is still about the divided and broken community in Corinth. This is still addressing the wrongs and problems that are occurring in a Christian community. And yet, I think it is accurately paired with the Gospel lesson today to contrast with the lack of love that the people of Nazareth have for Jesus when we tells them they will not benefit from him as others have. Our work in the Kingdom of God is above all else to Love. That is the message brought by Jesus and the one that Paul is seeking to deepen in the hearts of the early church that still bear weight today.
At a time such as this, while we are consumed with political power, with walls to keep out the stranger, with high ground and winning, perhaps Paul might say you can have all that, but without Love you have nothing. You can fight, you can hoard wealth, you can refuse to share your fruits with a hurting world, but if you lack Love, than there is an emptiness in you greater than any other object or feeling can fill. Our work as followers of Jesus Christ is to teach the Love that is inherent to the Kingdom of God. Everything else comes after that. Orthopraxy, orthodoxy, how to vest, what creed to recite, what direction you cross yourself. If you don’t have Love, then all of it is for naught.
I have often said that the easiest and most difficult thing God has ever commanded of us is to love one another. It is simultaneously so simple and yet not fully attainable. It is our work to strive for that in the realization of the Kingdom. We are called to Love. Everything else comes after that. Give freely and generously of your Love, and the ministry of Jesus Christ will follow. As the dismissal calls to us at the end of the service. Go in peace to Love. And to serve the Lord.