The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany; Year C (2/3/2013)

Lessons:Jeremiah 1:4-10 Psalm 71:1-6 (6) 1 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.

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.

On Outsiders and Insiders

A friend of mine suggested that this week’s sermon should begin, “When we last saw our heroes…” (Thanks, JN: great line!). This week’s Gospel lesson continues the story begun last week. Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth, joins his friends and neighbors at the synagogue, reads to them from the 61st chapter of Isaiah, and declares, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (v. 21) All is well. The people of Nazareth, like those in the surrounding communities, “spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” (v. 22)

Then the tide dramatically begins to shift. His friends and neighbors step back, as if to think, “Wait a minute! Isn’t this Jesus? The son of Joseph? Who is he to declare that the words of Isaiah are now being fulfilled?” Which seems to set Jesus off rather quickly. He immediately understands that they, like so many others, are not as interested in the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words, as they are in what might be in it for them. And so before they can even put that into words, he rebukes them: No prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. There were plenty of starving widows in Elijah’s time, but he was only sent to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon (an outsider — a non-Jew). There were plenty of lepers in the time of Elisha, but he only cleansed Naaman the Syrian (an outsider — a non-Jew).

The people of Nazareth become “filled with rage.” They drive him out of the synagogue, and to the edge of a cliff where they hope to throw him to his death, but he slips through the crowd and they never see him again.

This may be the first time (at least in St. Luke’s Gospel) that the teaching of Jesus draws the ire of the crowd, but it certainly won’t be the last. His words are hard to hear, especially for those whose primary hope is to benefit from his power and presence. His friends and neighbors in Nazareth seem quite pleased with what he has to say, until he indicates that the power of God will move through him to reach out beyond the boundaries within which they have defined themselves. Good news, release, sight and freedom for Israel: that’s great! For Gentiles in Sidon and Syria: not so much.

Yet that is the essence of his ministry. Jesus will continue to assault the boundaries that God’s people have drawn around themselves, until the battle comes to a climax on a hill just outside of Jerusalem. (Where, in fact, he will pray, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” — St. Luke 23:34)

We live in a world where many ask (and where we ourselves often ask), “What’s in it for me?” We worship a Lord who calls us to be a blessing, with him, to others; even to the point of picking up a cross and following him. This is bound to cause some conflict — some pushback. But there is a promise involved: “Those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (St. Matthew 16:24) It is in giving of ourselves to others that we come to find what life is all about. It’s an upside-down way to live, but that is the life to which Jesus calls us. The people of Nazareth couldn’t hear it on the day of his first sermon. Can we? Will we?

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What do his friends and neighbors first hear, that causes them to be pleased with Jesus?
  2. Why do they eventually react so negatively to what Jesus says?
  3. What does it mean that Jesus is able to slip away from them?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What pleases me about what I hear from Jesus? What disturbs me?
  2. Does it seem unfair to me that he is just as (or perhaps even more?) interested in outsiders as in insiders?
  3. Does it have to do with whether I consider myself an outsider or an insider?