The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany; Year C (1/31/2016)

Lessons:Jeremiah 1:4-10 Psalm 71:1-6 (6) 1st Corinthians 13:1-13 St. Luke 4:21-30

Prayer of the Day: Almighty and ever-living God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and love; and that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

4:21 Then he [Jesus] began to say to them, “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.

paragraph-line

 

St. Luke 4:21-30 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Surprise and Scandal

Last week we considered the surprise that took place when Jesus preached his first sermon in Nazareth. He read from Isaiah 61; words first spoken to the people of Israel when they were being held in captivity by the Babylonians. Isaiah promised them that the day would come when God’s Messiah would arrive and lead them back to freedom and hope.

Jesus read these same words to his listeners, and declared: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus wasn’t encouraging their hope that a Messiah would one day come. He was claiming to be the one sent by God — and for those who watched him grow up in their midst, nothing could have been much more surprising than this!

Now this week we continue the story, and discover that the surprise of last week is followed by the scandal of this week. The story turns on a dime when Jesus interprets Isaiah 61 by saying, “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.’ ”

But Jesus doesn’t imagine himself as being sent by God to work for the advantage of his hometown friends and neighbors. In fact, he doesn’t seem to be exclusively focused on the nation of Israel. Instead, as Elijah was sent away from his home to support a widow at Sidon, and as Elisha healed the leprosy of a militarily official from Syria, so too Jesus will understand his particular role as expanding the reach of God’s kingdom from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and eventually to the ends of the earth. His old friends and neighbors don’t take much of a shine to this. In fact, they are so upset that they drag him to the edge of town and try to throw him off the cliff.

We might look down at them for doing so, but the truth is: their reaction isn’t all that unusual. 19th Century American poet Edwin Markham famously penned these lines:

He drew a circle that shut me out- Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout. But love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle and took him in! [From the poem “Outwitted”]

We all want to be included. We all want to imagine that our faith will be a source of blessing for ourselves and our families. But if personal gain is at the heart of what we expect from Jesus, we too will find his approach scandalous. He comes not to draw a circle around us, to shut out others and to care for us. Instead, he come to stretch any circles we might imagine, so they include those whom we might not be inclined to welcome; those whom God loves; those for whom Christ is willing to die.

Insiders may find this scandalous. But it is the scandal of the Gospel. The scandal of a God who loves all of creation. The scandal of a God who seeks to move through us to draw others into the promise of our faith.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What is so scandalous about what Jesus says to his hometown friends and neighbors?
  2. Why do the people of Nazareth react so strongly to Jesus’ words?
  3. How do his life and ministry reach out beyond Israel?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Who do I find myself tempted to exclude?
  2. What would it look like for me to turn 180 degrees, and offer them a hand of welcome?
  3. What does my church do that welcomes others as Jesus did?