Sunday, January 20, 2013

An Inconvenient Truth: Meditation on Luke 4:14-30

Scripture can be found here...

“Good news.” Sometimes, something feels like “good news” or not depending upon on where you are standing.

Take the matter of New York State Senate Bill 2230, Assembly Bill 2388, approved by bipartisan coalitions in both chambers and signed into law on January 15 by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The New York Times described the bill as “a sweeping package of gun control measures.” People like Mayor Bloomberg, a longtime supporter of rigorous gun control legislation, clearly saw it as “good news,” as did advocacy groups such as New Yorkers Against Gun Violence and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. For those of you who don’t know, the Brady Campaign was founded by the friends and family of Jim Brady. He was White House Press Secretary under President Ronald Reagan; both men were shot, and Brady was permanently disabled during an attack on the president in 1981.

Of course, if you happen to be a resident of Ilion, New York, perhaps even an employee of the Remington Arms Company, which was founded there in 1816, this legislation might feel like very bad news indeed. You might be wondering whether your job is safe, or whether your town can withstand the possibility that this historic manufacturer might feel compelled to relocate. You might also perceive it to be bad news if you are a law-abiding gun-owner, as I know a number of you are. You might be wondering whether the Second Amendment to the Constitution is safe in the context of the national mood on gun violence, since the horrific events of December 14 in Newtown, CT.

Good news, bad news. Depends on where you are standing.

In today’s passage from the gospel of Luke, Jesus is standing in his hometown synagogue to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He reads the very same passage we read here on December 16, a choral reading by five readers.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because God has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. ~Luke 4:18-19

After finishing his reading, rolling up the scroll, and giving it back to the attendant, Jesus makes a bold statement:

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Another translation might be: “What you have just heard me read has come true today.” (Contemporary English Version).

And the hometown crowd? So far, they are pleased. “Wow,” they say to one another. “Joseph’s boy! Imagine that.”

As far as the faithful people gathered in the synagogue are concerned, Jesus has just claimed that God is in the process of making good on all those covenant promises we have been reading about since September. Their reactions were something along the lines of, God’s blessings are coming true. God is here. God is with us. God sees our pain. God will rescue us. God will heal us. God will set us free.

And the truth of the situation of Jesus’ people, God’s people, is that they are an occupied people, and Rome is a brutal occupier. Jesus’ words are, for the moment, good news.

But Jesus is not finished. He goes on to remind the hometown crowd of two stories from scripture—stories of two of the greatest prophets of Israel, Elijah and Elisha.

In each of the stories, the prophet carries the blessings of God to outsiders.

Despite the many needy women and children in Israel during a time of drought and famine, Elijah carries God’s blessing to a woman and child of Zarephath, a coastal city in what is now Lebanon. Elijah provides food to the small and vulnerable family in the midst of the famine. He raises the child from the dead. God’s blessing is given to outsiders.

And despite the many lepers in Israel, Elisha carries God’s blessing to Naaman, the Syrian general. Elisha heals him. God’s blessing is bestowed upon an outsider.

It is an inconvenient truth that we cannot determine the course of God’s mercy. We cannot channel it or direct it or block it or stop it or shut it up in boxes and reserve it for only those we consider to be worthy. It is not in our power. The blessing of God is available to those outside the camp as well as in it. God’s definition of “God’s people” is always, it seems, more spacious than our own.

Depending upon where you stand, this would appear to be either very good news or very bad news.

Why is that? Why does the news that outsiders were blessed, fed, healed, raised from the dead, cause Jesus’ hometown crowd to erupt in such a rage that they try to hurl him off a cliff?

Now, to be fair, it does feel like bad news for you when something you value is being taken from you. The judge who takes away the driver’s license from the unsafe driver. The student whose parent confiscates the cell phone because it’s interrupting their sleep. The child who cannot sleep without her beloved blankie.

But God is not taking blessing away from God’s people in either of these stories of the prophets. Jesus does not say or even insinuate that outsiders will be blessed instead of the hometown crowd. The people aren’t actually losing anything. Unless… you take into consideration their claim of exclusivity.

The only thing the hometown crowd in Nazareth is losing is the sense that God’s blessing is theirs and theirs alone.

It can be hard to share. It can be hard to understand that you don’t necessarily get to keep all the goodies for yourself.

On the other hand… Imagine with me a world where everyone, absolutely everyone, is bathed in a profound experience of the blessing of God. Where everyone feels—knows—that God’s blessings are coming true, that God is here, that God is with us. That God sees our pain, that God will rescue us, that God will heal us. Everyone trusts that God will set us free.

Imagine that world. That world where no one is motivated by their fear that they do not have enough—enough safety, enough healing, enough blessing.

Our travels through scripture are now taking us to the heart of Jesus’ ministry. God’s covenant promises to the people of Israel are still there—they still hold true, as true today as when God made them. But in Jesus, God shows us a love that is as broad as it is deep, and the wideness of God’s mercy doesn’t always sit well with the original band. They seem to fear there is not enough blessing to go around.

There is enough, enough of God’s blessing for everyone.  We do not lose out when others receive. God’s promise, as Jesus begins to preach it, and teach it, and live it out, is that there is enough. Thanks be to God. Amen.


  1. Wonderfully done. I appreciate how you have highlighted the conversation on gun control, but offered no "solution"...instead providing a framework for people to understand that the "other side" views things differently. Not bad, just different.

  2. Thank you so much! Very grateful for the feedback.