Last week on “Galilean Diaries,” also known as The Gospel of Luke, we saw Jesus having returned from 40 days and nights in the wilderness, where he was tested by Satan before he could begin his public ministry. Jesus was “filled with the power of the Spirit,” we were told, and word of his presence, his power, and his wisdom spread throughout the Galilean villages and towns. When he came to his home town of Nazareth one Sabbath, he went to the synagogue, as was his custom, and the native son was given the honor of reading the scripture of the day– the one from the prophet Isaiah which talks about Jubilee–”good news to the poor, release for the captives, sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed, the year of the Lord’s favor.” As he handed the scroll back to the attendant, he said to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Now in today’s installment, as the theme music for Galilean Diaries comes up, we sense a pregnant hush over those who had gathered. They look at Jesus, “his jeans loose from 6 weeks without eating [as Lutheran preacher Nadia Bolz Weber imagines him]…His face thin, but bright. He holds himself without apology, inhabiting his own unique shape in the world so completely that it almost creates a space around him for all of us to relax into un-self-consciousness and we sink out of our heads and into our bodies.” [“If Jesus Was Your Preacher,” Sarcastic Lutheran, Jan. 31, 2016] “All spoke well of him,” Luke tells us, “and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’”
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” he said. Bolz Weber wonders what it would be like if Jesus had walked into our sanctuary to read scripture and be the preacher of the day. Let’s listen in–
…when he opens his mouth to speak, [Nadia imagines] it’s as though there is something both common and melodic about his voice. A voice that is as familiar as the sound of our own heartbeats. A song we had forgotten and yet still know by heart. Maybe, just maybe, [she says] our Lord would say something like,
The Spirit of the Lord has anointed him to bring good news to the poor.
-to bring gifts of fine wine and rich food to those who exist only on McDonalds and Funions because it’s the only food in walking distance from their decrepit neighborhoods
-The Spirit of the Lord has anointed him to forgive all your student loans.
– to bring living water to the people of Flint Michigan and Rwanda and Haiti
– to tell the bank janitors that the CEO has distributed all their own pay raises and bonuses and stock options to them
-to look the Dow Jones in the eyes and laugh
-to dismantle our system of profits at the expense of people
-to restore the dignity of the 99% AND to restore the dignity of the 1%
– to endow us with a sense of worth that has nothing to do with bank accounts and status
“Because the Spirit of the Lord had sent him to bring good news to the poor.
I imagine Jesus standing here [Nadia says] and saying that The Spirit of the Lord has sent him to release to the captives
to free the addicts from the needle and the bottle and the laptop
– to remove the feeling of worthlessness from the depressed
-to bring rest to the sleep-deprived parents of babies
– to free those wrongly imprisoned by a justice system so often lacking in actual justice
– to take away the profit making system of the US prison industrial complex
– to remove all desire for the kind of cheap goods that only can come from child labor
– to give a sense of belonging to the alienated
– to forgive the sinner
– to save us from having to prove ourselves
– to remove all resentments from those who can’t let go of the past… (ibid.)
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” How wonderful! What’s not to like? Wouldn’t that be good news for us?
Maybe it was too good to be true. Maybe the crowd in the synagogue in Nazareth was tired of promises made and not being taken seriously. Maybe, as Richard Swanson suggests, they thought Jesus may have been “trifling with hopes that had lived for so many years” and had died for so many different reasons. (Cited by Kate Huey in Sermonseeds, 1/31/16) You can only dangle hope in front of people for so long. And so they became angry with Jesus, almost threw him over the cliff.
Sounds a little like some campaign rallies in our country. Voters are angry, we are told, tired of too many unfulfilled promises, angry and tired of all this so-called prosperity going to other people. Angry because they see their values being trampled upon, angry because the changes that are coming all too quickly seem to be leaving them behind. Jesus leaves out “the day of the Lord’s vengeance” from the Isaiah reading, and both that Nazarean crowd and many American crowds are anxious to hear just that–it’s time for God to kick some proverbial “butt.”
It was the Gentiles–the Romans and all the other pagans in their midst–that many first-century Jews saw as their enemies and God’s enemies, and here was Jesus reminding them of stories within their own tradition–in their own scriptures– where God seemed to go out of the divine way to bless the Gentiles–to save the widow in Sidon and to heal a Syrian general of leprosy. “Anger and violence,” the great preacher Fred Craddock said, “are the last defense of those who are made to face the truth embedded in their own tradition.” [cited by Huey, op cit.]
So Jesus, bless his heart, ignores all the advice and wisdom told to new preachers at their first pastorate– just listen first, don’t come in determined to slaughter all the sacred cows in your first sermon. Instead, he reminds his congregation that God can bless whomever God chooses to bless–even those people you can’t stand–, and brings up the year of Jubilee, when all debts are forgiven, land is returned to its original owner, which, by the way, is God, and slaves are freed; in other words, he talks about money.
Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann is “incensed by our need to be reassured that Jubilee was actually never practiced and by our own resistance to what Jubilee would accomplish.” [says Huey, op cit.]. Jubilee, says Brueggemann, “is the most difficult, most demanding, most outrageous demand of Biblical faith, because it flies in the face of our deep practices of accumulation and our intense yearning to have ours and keep ours and make it grow.” [Inscribing the Text, cited in Huey]
Even though the bible addresses the subject of money and possessions and how they are all to be used in the service of God and the common good over 2000 times, we are not supposed to talk about money in church, right? It makes everyone squirm. But, as someone once said to a previous presidential candidate, “It’s the economy,” isn’t it? that is at the heart of people’s discontent and anger– the growing gap between the haves and have nots, or, really, between the 99% and the 1%?
It is true here in our community, whether or not it’s as blatant in our congregation as elsewhere. People–especially young people–are more and more hopeless, as they see no prospect for jobs, as they live in substandard housing, as their bodies and minds decay from lack of adequate nutrition and healthcare, and so they numb the pain and the hopelessness with any number of substances–alcohol, pills, heroin. Biblical economics actually addresses this, as Brueggemann suggests–
You cannot have a viable, peaceable, safe, urban community when deep poverty must live alongside huge wealth, when high privilege is visible alongside endless disadvantage in health and housing and education. You can have some inequities, but the inequities must be curbed by a practice of neighborliness that knows every day that rich and poor, haves and have-nots, are in it together and must find ways of being together as neighbors in common.” [op cit.]
As Martin Luther King said, “We may have all come in different ships, but we’re in the same
For all our small town closeness, I wonder about our practices of neighborliness. It came up in our community discussion on Martin Luther King Day, how we really don’t talk to our neighbors, let alone know them. I’m wondering if the faith communities might facilitate neighborhood gatherings where people are simply invited, not to worship with us, but just to come together in our facilities to get to know one another. Our Sun and Fun Day, for example, would be a wonderful opportunity to invite the neighbors.
When Jesus’ neighbors heard him, “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.” Talk about blessing our enemies and our money and what is and isn’t ours will get you thrown out of town if you’re lucky, off a cliff if you’re not.
How would we react if Jesus were our preacher today, as Nadia Bolz Weber suggests, if he came preaching forgiveness of sins and student loans, bank CEO bonuses distributed among their janitors, if he came preaching release from addictions and hopelessness and resentments of the past; if he came proclaiming relief from depression and lead- and poison-tainted water systems, if he came naming all the things that we have secretly been bound up by and thinking there would never be release? If he sat here among us, “without apology, inhabiting his own unique shape in the world so completely that it almost creates a space around him for all of us to relax into un-self-consciousness, [so that]we sink out of our heads and into our bodies,” could we receive this not as one more false, naive promise but as the possibility of fulfillment?
He offers this fulfillment today not with the wave of a magic wand, or spitting into the dirt and scribing some cryptic symbol, or even promising that he will do all of this for us, if we simply vote for him. This scripture is fulfilled because the Divine working through and often inspite of human beings is able to create us anew. This scripture is fulfilled when we enter into that Christ-space, take on the “mind of Christ,” as Paul writes, and see the world, our lives, as God sees them. Make no mistake–there is great resistance to this fulfillment. The powers that be, sometimes our neighbors, even our family, we ourselves, are heavily invested in keeping things–in keeping us–just the way things–and we–are. There are cliffs and edges and envelopes and comfort zones to be pushed off and out of all over the place.
“But [Jesus] passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” It is that way– Jesus’ way–that we too must follow. So that, even in us, this scripture might be fulfilled.
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark