Sermon; Epiphany 4C; Luke 4:21-30
After last week's side trip into Corinthians and Paul's comparison of the Church to the body – many but one, individual members united in purpose – and how that related to the annual meeting, we are back in the gospel. As we spend time with these passages, we can see a theme within them. That theme is the manifestation of Christ as Son of God, epiphanies, revealings, God-moments. The Epiphany season is all about revealing who Jesus is, if only we have eyes to see.
Our previous gospel passages had the foreign kings and their gifts, the baptism of Christ, water turned to wine, and a fulfillment of a prophecy from Isaiah. In those it is relatively easy to see manifestations, revealings, and God-moments. Today, though, it's a little bit harder.
Today we get the immediate follow up to last week: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. Today, in his hometown, people speak well of him. Sort of. They wonder where this son of Joseph got this wisdom. And Jesus, aware of their doubts and unbelief, returns tit for tat.
“Surely you will say, 'Doctor, cure yourself!' And you will want me to do here what I did there.” And then he reaches back into the Hebrew scriptures and pulls up stories from two of Israel's greatest prophets, Elijah and Elisha.
There was a 3-1/2 year drought in Israel, but Elijah went to a Gentile widow at Zarephath in Sidon; and there were many lepers in Israel, but only Naaman the Syrian, a Gentile foreigner, was cured by Elisha.
This scriptural history lesson so enraged the people that they hauled Jesus out to the edge of town in order to throw him off the cliffs and be done with him. Where's the epiphany in that? Where's the revealing of who Jesus is? Where's the God-moment here? Because Jesus certainly can't be revealed as the Son of God by the actions of an angry mob, can he? Or is it in the way Jesus seems to do some Jedi mind trick in order to walk back to safety? “I am not the prophet you are looking for.”
The God-moment here isn't found in the mob or in Jesus' calm walk to freedom. Instead it's found in the appeal to scripture. Jesus referenced Elijah and Elisha, but I want to go a little deeper.
In Genesis 12, God told Abram to go forth and he would make him a great nation. “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” In Leviticus 19, God commands the Israelites to not oppress aliens who live among them, to treat them as citizens, and to love them. In Deuteronomy 24, the Israelites are commanded to not deprive aliens of justice. Ruth is the story of a foreigner being welcomed into Israel. Not only that, but there were four generations from Ruth the Moabite to David, a direct contradiction of Deuteronomy 23:3. Elijah provided food and oil for the widow at Zarephath, a foreigner. Elisha healed Naaman the Syrian, a foreigner. God saved the Ninevites, all foreigners, after Jonah prophesied for them to repent. Psalm 72 sings of foreign kings paying tribute and all nations honoring God.
I could go on, but you get the idea. In example after example, scripture shows us that God is equally concerned with the foreigner and outcast as he is with those who claim God as their own, whether Israelite or Christian.
Today's gospel, coupled with last week's, gets at the heart of this. Jesus travels throughout the countryside, preaching and teaching, eventually coming to his hometown. After reading the passage from Isaiah – the Spirit of the Lord is upon me to proclaim release, give sight, free the oppressed – he calls them out for thinking all this applies only to them. Remember the widow in Zarephath. Remember Naaman the Syrian. Know that nothing in the passage from Isaiah focuses solely on you, but is universal in nature. It speaks to both Israelite and Gentile.
Jesus' recognition of the universality of God's love and freedom so upset those around him that they turned on him and threatened to kill him. This is the God-moment, the revealing, in today's passage – that God is universal in nature.
In this book I'm reading for an upcoming clergy day, the author makes the case that too many Christians see church and Jesus as being about ME. It's about MY salvation. It's about ME getting to heaven. It's about MY personal relationship with God and Jesus. When in reality, he says, this whole Christian endeavor is about the future of the world. It's about a new heaven and a new earth for ALL people. It's about participating in God's universal creativity so that the prisoners are freed, the blind see, the poor are fed, the homeless are sheltered, the lonely are befriended, etc. etc. etc.
It was Jesus' alignment with God's universality that got him in trouble. It was his alignment with God's universality that got him run out of town.
One of my commentaries has an interesting take on this. The author says that Jesus doesn't go elsewhere because he is rejected; but that he is rejected because he goes elsewhere.
Epiphany is all about manifestations and God moments that reveal Jesus to be the Son of God. Sometimes they are powerful and wonderful moments – like the star and wise men, or the theophany at the baptism, or the miracle in Cana – that can make us say, “Of course he's the Son of God.” And sometimes they are powerful and wonderful moments that can threaten us and make us say, “Just who does he think he is?” Today is one such moment.
Today, like that day in his hometown, we are confronted with a man who is so in tune with God that he isn't afraid to challenge notions of ownership. Today we are confronted with a God-moment that challenges us to see God active beyond our borders and reaching out to all people.
Today's gospel reminds us that we can either attempt to control Jesus and keep him for ourselves in our little corner of the world, or we can have an epiphany, a God-moment, and see that God is the God of all, seen and unseen, and work to make the universality of God and Jesus a reality.