Then he began to say to them, “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.
Last week we learned that Jesus grew up in Nazareth, that he was faithful and observant to the customs of the local synagogue. We heard that he was well-respected and well known and is even given a scroll from which to read scripture. Opening the scroll, he reads from Isaiah and says that he has come to fulfill the scripture: that Jesus has
been anointed to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. This must certainly have sounded like good news to those that were poor, captive and oppressed – Good News to the subjugated and humiliated of the Roman Empire. That’s part one of the Good News: if you’re poor or oppressed, God will show you God’s favour. Last week’s Gospel reading shows us the crowds’ enthusiastic response: All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.
This week we hear part 2 of Jesus’s Gospel message, but the lesson ends very differently; with a mob trying to throw Jesus off a cliff (a death which he escapes, perhaps foreshadowing his resurrection after being killed on another high place). The intensity of this scene is remarkable, and the change in the crowd’s response to Jesus is all too human and all to frightening.
How did we get here? How did we get from the crowd being amazed and speaking well of Jesus, happy that he was proclaiming good news to the oppressed and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour, to this, where that same crowd is trying to throw him off a cliff?
Let’s pay a little closer attention to our lesson today. Luke has just told us that everyone was amazed by Jesus’s gracious words, and now, at the beginning of our Gospel, the crowd asks “Is this not Joseph’s son?”
And it’s immediately after they say this, Jesus confronts his people, saying things that provoke them into a murderous wrath. That sentence, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” seems to be the turning point, it seems to cause Jesus some offense. I can think of two reasons Jesus finds offense in being called Joseph’s son.
The first: the crowd is denying his divine conception. As Luke has painstakingly made us aware, Jesus is much more than the son of Joseph, he is the Son of God. The Son, upon whom God has breathed God’s mission and purpose into being. Sure, the crowd says, he may be a gifted local preacher. But he is surely not the Saviour of the whole world. This Son of Jospeh does not have the right credentials to be making such extravagant claims that he will usher in the era of the Lord’s favour.
Or the second reason that Jesus might be offended by the crowd saying he is the son of Joseph is that the crowd may be trying to claim Jesus as their own. Which is the same as claiming his Good News as their own. That it belongs to them. If Jesus’s family is from Nazareth, then his Good News, and the miracles that he performs, must also be about and for them.
Jesus confirms as much when he says of the crowd “Doubtless…. You will say ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” The crowd wants God’s favour and love to shine on them first, rather than on others. And Jesus rebukes them.
Jesus recounts two episodes in 1 Kings 17 and 2 Kings 5 in which Elijah, the second greatest prophet in Israel after Moses, and his student, Elisha, were instrumental in bringing God’s deliverance from death and sickness to the Gentiles – the foreigners. The widow of (Zarafath) to whom Elijah is sent by God is a foreigner, from a Phoenician city, and descended from Canaanites. These are decidedly the enemies of Israel. And yet, Elijah showed preferential treatment to this widow, the foreigner.
Jesus is saying "the year of the Lord's favour" means that other people will get to experience God's grace and love, maybe even more than us. Other people will get to experience God’s grave and love, even more than us. Some in the crowd are probably pretty angry at hearing this. Then, just in case some in the crowd misunderstand what he is saying, Jesus references another story, this time about Elisha and (Nayaman) the Syrian in Second Kings. (Nayaman) was a great warrior, and the commander of the army of the kingdom of (Eh-ram). He also suffered from leprosy. As the story goes, the Lord God of Israel sends Elisha to heal Nayaman the enemy of Israel, and then the Lord gives (Nayaman) victory over…. Israel.
That’s right. Jesus is saying to the crowd of people in Nazareth, a people who are oppressed by a ruthless foreign power, that God shows favour even to the foreign occupier. Jesus is saying that God’s love extends and benefits and liberates everyone, even those who may be our enemies. What Jesus is really saying, though the crowd can’t hear it, is that the Good News is that God’s love is greater than your love.
Now, if you were living in 1st century Palestine, under brutal occupation by Rome, hearing this message may well have filled you with wrath. It was your fathers and brothers and sons who were killed by Roman soldiers. It was your mothers and sisters and daughters abused as the spoils of war. It was your kingdom and your culture and your religion dominated by the pigs in Rome and their conspirators in Jerusalem. It was you that had been faithful to God. It was you that was oppressed. It was your people who had been speared and shattered. It was you that deserved justice – and to know God’s favour. How dare you, son of Joseph, say that the Good News is for the Romans, for the occupiers and the abusers and the filth of humanity?! After all we have been through, our God will not be Good News for the enemy.
If you were wondering this morning how on earth it is that Jesus was almost thrown off a cliff, now you know why. Preaching a Gospel that proclaims the Lord’s favour will be upon the poor, oppressed, captive and the blind is radical enough. If true, the Gospel requires, at the very least, a radical redistribution of power and wealth in the world, then and now. For poor Galilieans, this is surely good news. And it may well be this radical upside-downing of the world that gets him killed by the Roman Empire. But here, at the very beginning of his earthly ministry, the people of Nazareth were surprised, even scandalized, to hear part 2 of his Gospel message. Not only does God favour the poor and
oppressed, but God’s grace and love extends even to people we don’t love – even to people we hate, to the people we believe deserve nothing more. This is unacceptable to the crowd. They want God’s love for themselves. And just like the Romans who want to kill Jesus because the Kingdom of God means Caesar is no longer king, here the crowd wants to kill Jesus because the Kingdom of God will save everyone. Both are tempted to hoard God's love for themselves – both try to kill the message and the messenger – only to discover that the message and the messenger survive any human attempt to control the outcome of God’s radical love. They discover that, despite their best efforts to kill him in the high place of a hill or the high place of the cross, Jesus slips through their murderous fingers.
The questions that the Gospel provokes in us today we all have to take into our heart and consider seriously. The Gospel is confronting, even convicting us, for attempting to domesticate Jesus so he’s a little less radical than he is. And the Gospel is confronting, even convicting us, for trying to hoard God’s love for ourselves.
How do we domesticate Jesus? One way we domesticate Jesus is by denying the very real economic and political consequences of his ministry in the world today.
As a society, we have the power to make God’s love known for the poor. We once had a Canadian national housing strategy that ensured that poor people were housed, no matter how ill they got, or how badly their lives got. Our society purpose built housing for the poor to ensure that they and their children were warm, safe and sheltered. Then, at some point, politicians from across the political spectrum began to accept that the financial burden of building this kind of housing should not be bourne by the rest of us. That our taxes should be lower, and that the poor should work harder to lift themselves out of poverty. And that is why there are countless homeless persons in North Vancouver living on the street.
When I first started at Covenant House 12 years ago, I would do outreach shifts into Vancouver’s downtown eastside, going into the alleys and into Single Room Occupancy hotels. Which was like a living nightmare. I would visit Jordan the second floor of one of the SROs. When we walked in, we would not touch the banisters and we would not lean against the walls, because they were infested with bedbugs. Jordan lived in a tiny room with paper-thin walls. You could hear everything through those walls. You could hear the mentally ill and the people with addictions screaming at each other or at figments of their imagination. You could hear people beating on each other. These were incredibly dangerous places. Offering Jordan a sandwich, I asked him how he was. Sitting on his bed, there was a piece of paper tacked to the wall. He touched the corner of the paper so it swung upward on the tack, revealing a hole in the wall. And in that hole you could see bugs coming out of the wall. Maybe the worst part was leaving Jordan, to visit other youth on the fourth floor, and finding Jordan’s mom in her bedroom on the very same hotel. Imagine the trauma of being unable
to escape a hotel like that. Imagine the trauma of knowing your mother or your child will never escape that hotel. Canada has abandoned children to these hellholes. Canada has abandoned God’s children to these hellholes. The Good News of the Kingdom of God is Good News for Jordan and his mom, but it also convicts us as a society for having done nothing for them. We have hoarded God’s love for ourselves, just as the crowd tried to do in our Gospel reading. And Jesus rebukes us.
This week we learned of an Indian family found frozen to death in Manitoba, trying to cross an international border between Canada and the United States as illegal immigrants. We haven’t learned anything about their plight. So all we know is that life at home was so grinding and terrifying that this family chose to walk across a frozen landscape in freezing weather for the hopes of a better future. I have a 7 year old girl and a 2 year old boy at home. It struck at my core to hear that a 9 year old girl and a 3 year old boy froze to death next to their parents on our border. These deadly crossings are the result of unjust economic realities, and exploitation, and of political decisions around immigration that put people in desperate situations. The Good News of the Kingdom of God is Good News for this family. They will know the love of God. But the Good News of the Kingdom of God also convicts us. We have tried to hoard God’s love by keeping others out of the society we so enjoy. Jesus rebukes us.
Jesus says God’s love extends even to our enemies. What enemies do you have in your life? Are there people that you won’t speak to? Are there people that you deny God’s love because of your own pain and your own entrenched position. This one’s hard. There are a couple people in my life that I will not speak to. Who make my blood boil. That have hurt me so profoundly that I doubt their goodness. The idea that I am called to love them causes me physical distress Do you have any of those in your life? We might feel we may never embrace them again, or walk hand in hand with them as long as we shall live. But does it make you feel better, or worse, that God loves them as much as you? If I’m honest, a bit of me feels like the crowd wanting to lynch whoever tells me that. But if you really search deep down, past all the hurt and anger, maybe you can find some relief that God is hoping the best for them too. And even finds them likeable. Even lovable. That’s a hard one. But the Good News applies to them as well, and we don’t get to make God’s love as small as ours.
And here’s my last example. Sometimes we other even ourselves. Sometimes we deny God’s love even for ourselves. We speak down to ourselves, belittle ourselves, shame and guilt ourselves. It’s as though our psychology is made of up of multiple persons. Some parts are the good persons. And some parts of ourselves we make the problematic persons. Or we take on others hatred for ourselves. Deny that we are deserving of God’s love. Hey. Listen here. Jesus is not a fan of that stuff. If the Good News is for everyone, it’s for you too. Even those parts of yourself that you despise.
Whatever the example, Jesus is calling us to truly hear who he is and to truly hear, maybe for the first time, his world upending message. Jesus of Nazareth came to preach the two-pronged Good News: God favours the poor, the oppressed, the blind and the captive, AND the Good News applies to everyone. Literally every person on the planet. Every person who ever existed and ever will exist. And extends to all of creation. No matter what. Now, how are we going to respond? My suggestion is that we worship God today. That we enact that wonderful Kingdom a little bit today by sharing in Christ’s body in the Eucharist. Where each of us gets the same bread of life. And when we turn to each other in peace, that we really mean it. That we are saying to those in our midst, with love and affection and forgiveness, that we really do believe that God’s love is for everyone. If that is your response – to celebrate, in this Holy Eucharist, God’s magnificent love and God’s magnificent loved ones, then you will truly be a follower of Jesus.