Luke 4:21-30 The Rev. Helen Havlik
4th Sunday in Ordinary Time February 3, 2019
Our ancestors in the faith wisely set aside the Sundays after Epiphany to look again at the revelation that had been given to them—and we’re invited to join them. In our text from Luke, we’re picking up the story after Jesus is baptized and begins teaching, preaching and healing. He decides to go home—last week we heard the first part of the story. Now we turn to what happens next. I’m reading from Luke, Ch. 4, beginning with vs. 21. Listen to these words from the book that we love.
The synagogue is buzzing the way it always does before worship. People are gathering as they have every Sabbath for as long as anyone can remember, greeting each other, catching up on the latest news. Some elders are standing in the back talking about the most recent tax proposal to come out of Rome. Some children run past them to get to their seats. People speak about how cold it’s been lately. It’s all very usual as they wait for others to arrive, men and boys up front, women and girls in the back. They’ll read and discuss scripture; sing a couple of psalms; pray a couple of prayers, just as their parents and grandparents have done before them. And then go home to pot roast, mashed potatoes and a little rest in front of the football game—or at least their equivalent—before their week begins again.
It’s all very usual, so most people don’t even notice him come in. The elders catch a glimpse and go to welcome him and some others smile and raise their hands in recognition. Someone leans over and says to a neighbor, “Isn’t that Mary’s boy—you know, over by the lake he’s making quite a name for himself with his preaching —I hear he’s even healed a few people.” The neighbor nods and adds, “I wonder if he’s here to see his mother. I’ve heard his teaching is something else—maybe we’ll get a taste of it.” When it’s time for the Scripture reading and Jesus stands up, smiles of recognition greet him from every corner of the room—this is no outsider about to read and explain the scriptures. He’s a friend not a stranger—and a warm feeling settles on them as they anticipate a special message just for them. As he reads, heads nod as the prophet Isaiah’s words fill the room. Several people listen with closed eyes and when he finishes they look up with satisfaction and pride. They’ve taught him well, this carpenter’s son. They fold their hands and eagerly wait to hear what pearls of wisdom will come from his wonderful mouth.
“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,” he says and sits down, as Bible teachers do. Several people miss what he says and turn to each other to find out if someone else caught it. It must have been insightful because people in front are nodding vigorously in agreement. Finally someone whispers, “He says this scrip-ture is fulfilled.” They all know what that means. Tax cuts and reduced deficits. Lower prices and better quality goods. It means not worrying about widows and orphans because God is taking care of it. Our spiritual prisons no longer hold us and literal prisons still keep us safe. “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” They all know that means good news and more good news. They are awed that the carpenter’s son, of all people, brings them reassurance and God’s good news. And they lean forward for more wisdom to fall from his lips.
“What did he say?” Someone in the back doesn’t hear clearly. “I thought he said no prophet is accepted here? We’ve had dozens of prophets—we could use a good prophet now. I don’t understand—why is he talking about widows in Sidon? They aren’t part of this synagogue. Naaman the Syrian isn’t one of us! We are God’s people, not them—everyone knows Isaiah isn’t talking about literal poor people or literal prisoners.” Heads stop nodding as everyone suddenly realizes this carpenter’s son is talking about them—and it’s not what they want to hear. The welcoming smiles disappear. What right does he have to come in here and say this? What right does he have to insult us and throw scripture back in our faces? It’s just Jesus, the carpenter’s son! We don’t need to be kicked while we’re down. We need reassurance that God is with us—other people’s problems aren’t our responsibility! Like everyone else, we have to take care of our own first, survive as best we can.
Yet this favorite son pushes their buttons, refuses to tell them what they want to hear, even calls into question the sincerity of their faith. People are furious enough to shout him down, push him toward the door. As if they’re of one mind and body, they drag him to the edge of town and are about to toss him over the cliff, when he simply walks away. What begins as friendly turns ugly fast. I’ve looked and looked at this story and I still don’t know why Jesus provokes them the way he does. I don’t know why he gets in their faces and rejects their good will. It doesn’t make much sense to me at all—as my mother used to say, “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” If Jesus wants them to see his point of view, he’s certainly going about it in an odd way.
So in the end they don’t realize this carpenter’s son really is their friend, because friends love and respect us enough to tell us when we’re out in left field. They tell us the truth even when we don’t want to hear it. And the truth Jesus tells us is this: our piety is something but it isn’t enough unless it’s accompanied by a generous and forgiving and serving heart. The inward—what we believe and whom we trust—must match the outward—what we do. We can come to church and sing and pray, but unless we understand that God’s love and forgiveness are offered to everyone, the poor and the prisoners and the widows and the fragile ones of the world—and even us, then we miss the point of what we’re doing here.
Maybe the hometown folks had forgotten this—it’s easy to do! It’s easy for me to slip into thinking only about what concerns me and mine. Maybe Jesus says what he does the way he does because he cares about them and wants them to be on the road that leads to wholeness and holiness. Maybe he cares so much that he’s willing to risk their anger—and worse. Jesus walks away this time, but the story, of course, is not over. Finally he is shouted down for good; his enemies rejoice that they are done with him. And just at this point, God comes back. After the many words Jesus teaches and preaches, God comes back with the powerful final word—resurrection. New life—not just for Jesus, but for the hometown folks and all of us.
As we share the Lord’s Supper this morning, we not only are reminded of Christ’s life and death and resurrection, we participate in it. We not only are invited to think about the bread of his body, broken for our sakes, and the cup of his blood poured out for our sakes, we are given them for spiritual food. In this cynical world, where true and honest friends are harder and harder to come by, this holy meal still has the ability wake us up, push us to deeper thought and greater action, awe us with the love and the sacrifice behind it. Even this very day, as we eat this bread and drink this cup, the words of both Isaiah and Jesus are fulfilled. The question is —do we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear?