Lectionary blog for Feb. 3, 2013
The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
Texts: Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 71:1-6,
1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Luke 4:21-30
Ravi Zacharias was a grad student at Cambridge when he made a day-trip over to Bedford, the hometown of John Bunyan, the writer of “The Pilgrim’s Progress.” He was not disappointed. There in the middle of town was a life-size statue of the tinker/preacher/writer, his restored house, a museum and the church he pastored in the 1600s.
Ravi had a great day wandering around town, praying in the church, examining the house, looking over artifacts in the museum. Finally it was time to go home, but he lingered in the gift shop of the museum, looking over the various editions of “The Pilgrim’s Progress” for sale. He struck up a conversation with the young clerk. He asked her where she was from.
Right there in Bedford, born and bred. He asked her about Bunyan and she told him all the vital statistics (when and where born, books written, times in jail, death, etc.) He chatted with her about the different copies of the book available, and she told him all about covers and paper quality and print size. Finally, he asked her what her favorite part of the story was, what bit stuck with her? She said, “Oh, I wouldn’t know, I’ve never read it. It’s quite old and boring isn’t it?”
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus talks about how a “prophet is not without honor except in his hometown.” Bunyan was honored, but his teachings are now ignored. Is this the way it is with the church today, remembering Jesus but forgetting his message?
Following his baptism and time in the wilderness Jesus has come to his hometown of Nazareth and goes to the synagogue and reads the text from Isaiah about being the Lord’s anointed. It is here that our text begins. Jesus says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
At first people were pretty impressed. Verse 22 says, “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” They are impressed.
It is in verses 23-27 that he makes them angry. Apparently they were pleased with his preaching, but they had heard that he had done miracles and healings elsewhere and they wanted him to do some for them. And Jesus refused. Apparently, he believed that what they wanted was a show, an exhibition. They weren’t interested in people being healed; they wanted to be entertained and Jesus was having none of it. We can read between the lines and hear the homefolks saying things like, “Who do you think you are? What’s the matter, you too good for us now? You’ve gone off to the city and now you’re too big to do miracles for us?”
Jesus responds with two Hebrew Bible stories of healing: Elijah and the widow of Zarephath and Elisha and Naaman. What’s important here is that both the widow of Zarephath and Naaman, were gentiles, foreigners, aliens.
Jesus points out that there were many widows and lepers in Israel, but God chose to use Elijah and Elisha to heal the outsiders, and God has chosen Jesus to bring God’s love to everybody, not just the children of Israel. This made the crowd furious. They ran him out of town and tried to kill him, but he eluded them.
Now, here’s the question for us today. Are we like the woman in Bedford, honoring the memory of Jesus without actually knowing what he said or meant? Are we like the people of Nazareth, pleased with Jesus as long as what he says sounds good to us but turning our backs on him when he says things we don’t like?
Now, most of us would never come right out and say we disagree with Jesus, so we often use wriggle room to avoid it. Whenever we hear something we don’t like coming out of Jesus’ mouth, we blame it on someone other than Jesus: the professors, the liberals, the over-educated preachers, the bleeding hearts, the conservatives, the fundamentalists; anything to avoid admitting that Jesus said it and I’m supposed to believe it and obey it.
For example, I confess that I am a little hard-hearted about poor people and homeless people. My gut reaction is: “Get a job, go to work, get busy. If you’re poor, it’s your own fault.” Despite a University of North Carolina and Duke education and years of prayer and Bible study and living with a social worker for 38 years, somewhere in a place I don’t visit very often, somewhere deep in my psyche, I still feel that way.
And yet Jesus said the Holy Spirit had anointed him to preach good news to the poor. He told the rich young ruler to sell all he had and give it to the poor. There is that great judgment parable in which Jesus said, “If you did it unto one of the least of these, the cold, the hungry, the naked, the poor, you did it unto me.” And he said many more things about the poor and my — our — obligation to help them. We have to deal with that. Do we sort of ignore it, like the nice lady at the Bunyan Museum ignored “The Pilgrim’s Progress”? Do we get mad about it and turn our backs on Jesus, like the people of Nazareth? Or do we swallow our pride and obey our master.
Have we stopped listening to Jesus? He says many things about loving the stranger and the foreigner, about turning the other cheek, about living a life of prayer, about selling what we have and giving it to the poor. Do we take Jesus seriously, or are we giving him the “yada, yada” treatment, nodding and smiling, but not really listening, putting him off and putting him on?
Listening to Jesus is hard. Many things he said challenge us; they challenge our ideas and our prejudices and our actions. But Jesus not only challenges us, he also invites us. He invites us to think about things in a new way, to think about others in a new way, to act toward others in a new way. Jesus invites us to join him in living in the world by the rules of the kingdom of God, not the rules of earthly success and happiness.
Jesus invites us to join him in blessing the world with God’s grace and acts of healing and love. Jesus invites us to join him in going out to all lands and all peoples with the great good news that the kingdom of God has come and we are all invited to be a part of it.
Amen and amen.
- Can you think of a time that you didn’t want to hear the words of Jesus?
- How can you join Jesus in blessing the world with God’s grace?
Delmer Chilton is originally from North Carolina and received his education at the University of North Carolina, Duke Divinity School and the Graduate Theological Foundation. He received his Lutheran training at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C. Ordained in 1977, Delmer has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.