Old Testament: Jeremiah (1:4-10)
Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”
The Response: Psalm (71:1-6)
1 In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; *
let me never be ashamed.
2 In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free; *
incline your ear to me and save me.
3 Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe; *
you are my crag and my stronghold.
4 Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, *
from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor.
5 For you are my hope, O Lord God, *
my confidence since I was young.
6 I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;
from my mother’s womb you have been my strength; *
my praise shall be always of you.
The Epistle: Corinthians (13:1-13)
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
The Gospel: Luke (4:21-30)
[Jesus began to speak in the synagogue at Nazareth:] “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 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?” 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.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 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; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 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. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
by the Rev. Mike Kreutzer
What in the world happened in the reading that we just heard? It was a continuation of last Sunday’s gospel, in which Jesus gave what was, in effect, his inaugural address in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. He read for them a brief passage from the book of Isaiah and then sat down and commented on the reading. It seems like everyone was very favorably impressed. In fact, Luke observes, “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.”
But their attitudes and their actions changed quickly and dramatically. Just six verses later, Luke says that they were “filled with rage”; and they tried to throw him off a cliff. What in the world prompted such a sudden reversal and such hatred?
It seems that they were proud of their “hometown boy made good,” as long as he put them first and kept them in a privileged position. But Jesus hadn’t done that. Even at this early stage of his public ministry, his view of what God wanted him to do was far broader than that. And, more basically, his view of God was far broader than that.
Although Luke doesn’t give us any details, it is apparent that Jesus had already been doing some amazing things in Capernaum, a city on the Sea of Galilee: a city with a much greater mixture of Jews and non-Jews. Jesus, sensing their objections to his actions, cited for them biblical stories about the two great prophets, Elijah and Elisha. In both cases, they had performed extraordinary works for the sake of non-Jews: works that seemed much more extraordinary than what they had done for their fellow Jews. For the folks gathered there on the Sabbath, that seems to have been what set them off. Even their own scriptures showed the shallowness of their attitude toward others.
Now, contrary to what is sometimes alleged, it wasn’t the case at Jesus’ time that Jews kept themselves completely separated from non-Jews, or that they considered them to be some sort of enemy. For the most part, the two groups had very positive relationships with each other and lived and worked together in the same communities. The Hebrew Scriptures, what we usually call “the Old Testament,” show God’s ongoing concern for all people. And they picture Israel’s role as being one for the sake of all people: a minority in service to the majority. The problem here was that some of those in Nazareth wanted to make sure that they were taken care of first and that they received preferential treatment over everyone else.
Attitudes like that are a temptation for people of all times and all circumstances. Members of a particular racial group, for example, sometimes want to ensure that members of their race have a privileged position over everybody else. Citizens of a particular country try to assert that their nation has to come first and to receive special preference. And even members of certain religious traditions try to narrow the message of the scriptures to assert that only they, and those who think and act like them, receive preferential treatment from God.
Depending on which translation you choose, there are more than 31,000 verses in the bible; and that’s not counting the so-called intertestamental books. Yet certain Christians try to ignore the broader perspective of the entire book and to narrow their focus to one or two carefully selected verses that assert that only those who are baptized or only those who recite a particular creedal statement will receive God’s gift of salvation. Like Jesus’ neighbors in the synagogue at Nazareth, they react, often with anger, to anyone who dares to assert, as Jesus did, that God’s love and God’s grace and God’s salvation are gifts freely offered to all people.
In reflecting on this story, Fred Craddock (Luke, p. 63) commented: “Anger and violence are the last defense of those who are made to face the truth of their own tradition which they have long defended and embraced. Learning what we already know is often painfully difficult. All of us know what it is to be at war with ourselves, sometimes making casualties of those who are guilty of nothing but speaking the truth in love.” That observation applies well to some of those who adamantly hold to a narrow view of God’s love. They refuse to accept that “wideness in God’s mercy” about which we sang a few minutes ago.
One of the things that brought me to the Episcopal Church over 36 years ago was the fact that it does not consider itself alone to be “the one, true church,” but that it sees itself, along with churches of other denominations, as only a part of the one, true church. In addition, it values the wisdom and insights of other religions and of other non-religious traditions as well, realizing that the incomprehensible God reveals the divine self in countless ways. It embraces a far greater God than the narrow one advocated by far too many people in our world and even in the church.
And one of the things that brought me to leave my career in the computer services industry and my service as a supply priest, and instead to come to St. Mark’s 22 ½ years ago was this parish’s history of seeing God’s presence among all sorts and conditions of people in the wider community and world and of engaging in ministry to those in-need, together with women and men with a variety of beliefs and perspectives — all to serve what St. Paul refers to as “the common good.”
Such an approach to God and to living in God is very much in keeping with the basic message of the bible. In reflecting on the faith of Abraham as described in the book of Genesis, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (Not in God’s Name, pp. 203-4) observes: “The ethical imperative to emerge from such a faith is: search for the trace of God in the face of the Other. Never believe that God is defined by and confined to the people like you. God is larger than any nation, language, culture or creed. He lives within our group, but he also lives beyond.”
That is the faith that Jesus dared to assert in his address in the synagogue at Nazareth and in his life and ministry that followed. His message nearly led to his death on a hill in Nazareth, and eventually did lead to his death on a hill in Jerusalem. Yet it remains the message of our biblical tradition, the message of our faith, and the message that we are called to proclaim in his name.