By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
January 30, 2022
Luke 4:21–30 (ESV)
21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘ “Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’ ” 24 And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away.
Today we begin where we left off last week. I find this to be a bit ironic to be honest, because so often we begin where we left off. So often we seem to repeat the same things over and over again. All too often I find myself struggling with the same vices that I have struggled with for years. And I ask myself why am I still here? Why am I still tempted with this? Why have I not moved forward and beyond?
The answers can be many, in fact it might be that you are right where you are supposed to be spiritually. Not every moment of our walk of faith is going to filled with miraculous signs and wonders. At times life is just ordinary. Life is plain. Life is just a cycle of repeated scenarios. Yes, there are moments that are different, moments that take our breath away. Moments that give us hope. Like for no reason your husband brings you flowers. Or you wake up in the morning and you find that your kids have put away all the clothes you folded and didn’t have the energy to worry about. There are moments where hope seems to astonish us, but it is not in the big things, miracles are rare, it is instead in small things that take us by surprise.
While I drive around town making deliveries I tend to listen to podcasts and audiobooks. This week I listened to a podcast called “Ask NT Wright Anything.” These episodes are filled with questions people have sent in and the famous former Anglican Bishop, professor, and bible scholars will give answers to them. This week Tom, as he desires to call himself, mentioned something that I had not really thought about. NT Wright wrote a biography on the life of Paul the apostle, and I do not know what the conversation was about because my ears tuned out when Tom said Paul wrote this while he was struggling with depression. This floored me. It made me realize that even our Biblical Heroes were human just like us. Of course, I already knew this intellectually but to actually hear someone say that Paul wrote this portion of scripture while he was struggling through depression made me realize just how human and ordinary, we all are.
Our spiritual lives, our lives of faith, are ordinary most of the time. We have moments we feel closer to God than ever, and then there are moments where we seemingly rinse and repeat. Our prayers discuss the same struggles, the same needs, the same, the same, the same. And in those moments, we can be caught off guard. In the moments of monotony, we can become distracted. During those times, our faith is at its greatest risk. It is easy to hold on to our faith around Christmas, and Easter. It is easy to claim faith when we speak about our stances on particular issues, we find to be important. But how often do we check how our faith has shifted when we are going through the ordinary times? Do we even notice the drift when we have spent the week consuming news media that is exclusively one sided?
I mention this because that is what is going on in this passage today. And yes, part of it is repeated from last week. Today’s passage begins with the one sentence sermon from Jesus, which is the first sermon that Luke has recorded in his gospel account. It is by no means Jesus’s first sermon because today’s passage clearly states that Jesus had been active within the community of Capernaum.
Jesus had just finished reading a portion of scripture in Isiah that stated, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19) After reading those words, Jesus sat down and everyone looked at him with eagerness. Jesus just sits there for a moment; he lets the words sit on the surface of their minds and begin to seep into those forgotten recesses. Then as the words begin to make their way into their mind and as he notices the eagerness building on their faces, he says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Again, he stops, he lets the words move the people. He allows them to interpret them as they will. We often hear what we want to hear. It might surprise you but most of what you think I have said over the past twelve years of ministry has not come from my mouth, but your own mind. Most of what has angered you, blessed you, comforted you, or inspired you are not my words. You can go back and look at every sermon I have given over the past ten years on my blog, unfortunately you can’t look at the past twelve because I started the blog ten years ago. You can read every one and you will probably not find the words that set you off in positive or negative ways, because in most cases I did not say them. I am not that smart. I am not that observant. I am just the same person that at one time sat listening to the pastor in those same pews you all sit in today. We hear what is in our hearts. We hear what the Sprit of God wants us to hear. If it angers you, that anger is not something you need to direct at me, but at yourself because it might be that your ideas are going against God, and God is calling you into repentance. If it inspires you, it is the Spirit guiding you into a new place of examination. If it comforts you, it is the Spirit telling you to just stay and rest for a while.
The congregation spoke well of the words that Jesus spoke, they marveled at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They testified or bore witness to these things. They were amazed at what this simple carpenter from among them was saying. But then there was a turning. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”
They were excited, they were moved, and then just as suddenly there was a turning. They went from amazement to confrontation. In a heartbeat the atmosphere changed, the sun was shining and now a thunderstorm is looming.
What is the change? As the words Jesus spoke and read began to mix within the minds of those that listened, they began to hear the words that were unspoken. He did not finish the passage, they might say. He is claiming to be the Messiah yet his is Joseph’s son. He is doing this. He is saying that. Jesus at this point had only read the scripture and spoke one sentence of commentary and the atmosphere of the room went from praise to something much darker. Are we going to sit here and listen to this? And in Mark’s gospel account this gets a bit deeper, they add the son of Mary. They in a sense are saying are we going to sit here and listen to the self-righteous talk from an illegitimate son of a … I do not think I need to finish that statement. We know what it is because we might have had those thoughts ourselves at times or have had those sentiments sent in our direction.
In the span of a breath, a heartbeat, the room went from marveling at the words of Jesus to a riotous mob wanting to kill him. What happened in that heartbeat? The spirit revealed their hearts and they could not handle it.
Jesus did not speak the words of vengeance that would have finished that passage of scripture. It is what Jesus did not say that set people off. The neglected words were directly pointed at the people that sat in that place of worship. The people of Nazareth were proud. They were filled with righteous energy. They were zealous for their God and their people. But there was something sinful within that. They failed to see the humanity of others.
When the weather changes Jesus begins to speak again. He points out the difference in attitude between his hometown and the response from the people at Capernaum. Are they jealous that Jesus was doing miracles for them and judging us? We are told in other gospel accounts that Jesus was unable to do any miraculous signs in Nazareth because of their lack of faith. I want us to stop for a moment and consider this. Nazareth was not a town that lacked faith. This is the town Mary and Joseph both lived and worked. Mary was in our understanding a child, and an angel visited her and said to her that she had found favor with God. This child listened to those words and accepted them. She accepted them because she lived in a community that had faith. They believed in God; they knew that God could do amazing things. They did not necessarily lack faith, but their faith may have been misplaced.
Jesus proclaimed the year of the lord’s favor and his countrymen were angry. This tells us a great deal. They wanted the blessing but they wanted it for themselves. When Jesus neglected to read the portion of scripture that spoke of God’s vengeance, he opened the blessing to all people and also opened the door of vengeance to all people.
The Nazarenes regarded themselves as people of God, they were currently the ones that faced oppression, they were the ones that needed liberation, and freedom. They were the ones that deserved God’s blessing because they were children of the promise. They were faithful heirs of Abraham. Jesus is pointing out the hypocrisy of their own hearts. If God were to release them from oppression, what would they do? If God would grant them freedom, how would they respond? Their mind was on vengeance they wanted to give back everything they felt they endured. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth. They were the chosen ones of God and they wanted everyone to know their power. But that is not what the call of God was about. God chose Israel not to be his instrument of judgement but revelation. There is a difference. We want power and influence, and we want them on our terms, but often God does not work like that. If the population rises and overthrows a tyrant what happens? The oppressed become the oppressors. Our desire is to make those that caused trouble, taste the trouble that they have caused. Nazareth did not want to become a light of God’s goodness to the nations but they wanted to be the arm of God’s vengeance. They wanted to be God’s arm but they themselves were not God’s arm because their faith was not in God, but in their own nationalistic ideology.
Jesus goes on to say, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaves were shut up for three and a half years and famine came over all the land. There were many widows but Elijah was not sent to them but was instead sent to Zarephath in Sidon. Why? There were many lepers in the land of Israel that desired relief and healing from their condition during the days of Elisha but God did not cleanse them. Instead, he cleansed Naaman, the servant of an enemy king. God blessed the Gentiles. Even when his own chosen people were struggling in famine and disease, he chose to give blessing through his prophets to people that could not claim special privilege. Why?
God does not give salvation through heritage, or even through systems of belief. God’s salvation is through believing loyalty and living that belief out in the world. The widow had only enough flour and oil for one serving of bread. They were about to starve, and yet she trusted that this prophet that came to her door spoke words of truth and she acted accordingly. Naaman also trusted that the words of the prophet were true and he listened (He argued at first but he eventually listened), and he took a plunge into the Jordan and was cleansed of his leprosy. His response to this was to ask for dirt from Israel so that when he went home and served his king, that he could offer his prayers not to the gods of his land, but on the holy ground of God the Most High.
Jesus points out to us as well as his own countrymen that God is not concerned with our understanding of faith. He is concerned with how we live that faith out in the world. Yes, there are times where God uses us as instruments of vengeance but more often, we are to be instrument of grace. Grace is the default setting, not vengeance.
This excited the people. They in their righteous fervor were filled with wrath and they drove Jesus out of the synagogue, out of the town and they took him to a hill. They in a sense became a lynch mob ready to take the life of the offending person. I use that term because it is important. It is connected to the darkness of our own history, and our own misplaced righteous zeal. There was a time in our history that our sense of right and wrong was so twisted that if anyone questioned it, we would drive them out of town and hang them from a tree. This was not done by people regarded as criminals but by upstanding citizens. People that sat in church on Sunday, people that could quote scripture and gave their tithe. They might have even provided charity to those under their oppression. Yet if they felt that their privileged status was questioned, they were triggered and did the unthinkable.
The lynch mob is sinful. It will always be and always has been sinful. When we take the law into our own hands, we deny true justice even if we by chance right. If we do not extend the grace, we desire for ourselves to others, we do not understand nor have the gift in ourselves. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he said, “Forgive us our sin as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” This statement is the only statement that Jesus explained when he was asked by his disciples to teach them to pray. He expanded this section because it is the most important. If we do not extend justice to others, we do not have justice. If we do not grant liberty to others, we do not have liberty. If we do not extend forgiveness and grace to others, we, ourselves, do not have forgiveness nor have we truly experienced grace. I want this to sink in. I want it to saturate your mind and seep deep into your soul. The people of Nazareth in all their zeal and righteousness were the problem. They wanted the privileges of grace, but they did not want to be the instruments. They wanted God’s favor, but they did not want that favor to extend beyond their own people. They wanted to control, they wanted to be the instruments of blessing and curse. They wanted to be god. We are no different. We want. We desire. We claim. We proclaim. But do we live? Do we live as a light to the nations or do we reflect vengeance? Do we extend grace, liberty, release, and healing; or do we extend more of the same oppression?
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil
For your is the kingdom, the power, and the glory
Forever and ever. Amen.
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