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January 31, 2016, 8:40 AM

Liberating Words

by Sandy Bach

"[Jesus] 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' And he said, 'Truly I tell, you no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown.'" (Luke 4:23-24 NRSV)

What was Jesus thinking?  Better yet, what was Luke thinking?

Jesus has just read to his hometown people the words from the prophet 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." And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.  The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.  Then he began to say to them "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hear."  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?" (Luke 4:18-22 NRSV)

Jesus had the synagogue in the palm of his hand!  And what does he go and do?  He annoys them.  He gets in their faces with words like, "Don't tell me to heal myself: I'll do this ministry with God in charge, not you." His hometown friends and neighbors become so incensed that they run him out of town and try to push him off a cliff.  They can't touch him, though.  He simply slips through their hands.

What was the problem?  Mark and Matthew depict this same scene, only the townspeople are angered because Jesus claims to be the Messiah.  Luke changes things up a bit.  He allows the people a moment of pride:

"I was his Sunday school teacher.  Such a willing student!"

"You should have seen him at Youth Fellowship meetings!"

"I remember watching him with his father as they headed out of town for a carpentry job. They were so companionable together."

"Yep!  That's our Jesus.  'Can't wait to see what he does for us here."

Jesus knows these folk.  They were his teachers and mentors and friends.  They know everything about him up to the point when he left Nazareth.  How can he speak words to annoy them? And why would he want to? What happened to proper etiquette, like "mind your elders" or "if you can't say something nice, say nothing."

Apparently, his ministry has begun and he has accomplished much in and around Capernaum.  The Town of Nazareth, a poverty-stricken community with barely a mention on a Roman map, could use a man like Jesus.  There are sick to be healed.  There is work to be done to try and build up Nazareth.  Nazareth could well have a long list of what they need from him.  And hardly any of it is on God's to-do list for the kingdom.

Did Jesus try to explain prior to worship on the Sabbath?  Were his words an attempt to gain their attention; to make them listen to him?  Perhaps.  All we know from our reading is that he is clear about his ministry.

First, this is God's mission, not Nazareth's or the Roman Empire's.  The Temple in Jerusalem will have no authority over him.  God is in charge and Jesus has already proven that he will not live by bread alone.  The Nazarene people will not be able to tell Jesus what to do and when to do it.

Second, as proud of him as the townspeople are, they would be ready and willing to offer Jesus a few hints and tips on his ministry.  "You know, son, you want to be careful how you speak to your elders.  This in-your-face style won't go down well.  Tone it down a bit.  You'll catch more flies with honey than you will with vinegar."

Third, they will not have a say in the scope of Jesus' ministry.  To bring his point home he reminds of the Widow of Zarephath.  All those widows in Israel struggling with famine and Elijah goes to the Gentile territory of Zarephath and provides food for her and her son until the drought ends.  Elijah even brings her son back from death.

Of all the Israelites with serious skin diseases, the prophet Elisha chooses to offer healing to the General Naamon from enemy territory.  In other words, God's ministry is not only for those in the backwater town of Nazareth; nor the area known as Galilee; not even limited to Israel.  God's ministry is for all.

So for those living on the edges of society, Jesus will reach out to them.  Different faith traditions, enemies, those with whom we don't want to associate.

Why are they so angry?  Well, let's bring this in to our modern times.  God wants to reach out to our enemies.  God would have us offer healing to a child from Iran.  God would have us reach out to feed the undocumented worker who lives down the street, trying to stay under the radar.  God would have us offer fellowship to that same sex married couple living nearby.

About thirty years ago a family member hurt me very deeply.  Over the years, she continued to do so and I failed to do anything to stop her.  In the past few weeks I've decided to end this pain and move on with my life.  The problem is: I can't forgive her.  She hurt me repeatedly and my family stood by and allowed it.  She behaved badly and I would rather see her suffer than offer her forgiveness.  What she did was mean and cruel.

Jesus came for the likes of her: two-faced and self-centered.  Jesus came for the likes of me, unforgiving and hurting.  And when I think on these things, I can feel some of the anger of the Nazarenes who tried to push him off that cliff.

God is at work in me to sweep out the hate and unforgiving spirit within me.  And I trust that I'll be free from it all some day.  And that's why Jesus had to leave Nazareth.  Because his ministry would only work if he remained totally connected to his Father; his ministry would only work in an atmosphere of trust.

He came for the likes of those we know to be sinful and those we know who are making unwise, even dangerous decisions, and yes, even you and me.  We're in need of good news to our poor starving hearts that are worn out by stress and hatred.  We're in need of release from unforgiving spirits or addictions.  We're searching to have our eyes opened to new truth that will continue to set us free.  And we're all constantly in search of new beginnings.

I don't want to be one of the hometown folk who tried to run Jesus out of town.  Yet, I know that there are moments when I'm part of the lynch mob.  Thanks be to God that Jesus slips through the midst of us and shows us an even better way.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


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