Read the text here: Luke 4:14-21
Can You Handle the Truth?
Since the days of the ancient Greeks and Romans and on to our own day, one of the great temptations that human beings have struggled with it is the place of religion in human society. And in the majority of cases the purpose that religion has fulfilled has been to support the way the things are – to support the status quo. The loudest proclamation that comes down through the ages is this: “God is on our side, no matter what.” Ancient paganism was designed to support the temporal powers and the Old Testament is filled with the angry words of the prophets condemning a people and government who would convert the worship of Yahweh into department of state propaganda. Even in our own time we see this from way too often. We like to think that God is on our side and we hear this all the time – this candidate, this issue, is ordained as what God wants. It makes it hard to oppose or vote against someone or a position that has been approved and ordained by God. But is that all our faith is - just props to make us feel righteous and special? Or is there more.
In our Gospel text for today Jesus emerges from his 40 days in the wilderness and goes to his home in Nazareth. There he assembles with all the men of the village at the synagogue. Undoubtedly some of these men are family friends, neighbors and family members. Perhaps Joseph or Jesus’ brothers are there, the text doesn’t say, but it is not inconceivable. Remember also that during the first century even though the Romans were “in charge” there was a strong Jewish governmental and religious structure in place that ruled with an iron hand. They let the Romans deal with overall administration, but these Jewish authorities – Pharisees and Sadducees and scribes – controlled the religious life in Palastine. If you wanted to experience God’s presence, or appeal in any way to God you had to do it their way. If you wanted success or even peace then you had to fall in line. The worship of Yahweh became very temple-centric and focused on individuals keeping the law of Moses. To try to go against all of this was dangerous – at best it would get you cast out of the community; at worst it could get you killed.
Into this situation walks Jesus. He is handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and he reads: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he 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.” And then he simply adds that today those who are listening are witnessing God’s fulfilling of this prophecy right before their eyes. In other words Jesus is challenging the status quo. Jesus is saying that the worship of Yahweh is not just about keeping the law perfectly; it is not about making sacrifice and keeping the festivals in a prescribed way; it is not about obeying the religious structure that was administered by the authorities. The worship of Yahweh is about lifting up the poor from the depths of misery, it is about releasing those who are captive, it is about the blind seeing, the lame walking; it is about justice – it is about God bringing the Kingdom of Heaven into our midst through Jesus and putting people first by creating a community founded on justice and compassion and grace. “The year of the Lord’s favor” refers to the Jubilee year, that now, according to Jesus will not only take place but will be a constantly in force. In other words, Jesus is saying to his friends and neighbors – The God of Israel, Yahweh has come into the world in me, not to support the way things are but to TURN THINGS UPSIDE DOWN!
And guess what, Jesus friends, family and neighbors all turn on him and try to throw him off the edge of the cliff. They don’t want to hear this news. They want to hear that God is on our side and approves of everything we do, especially our religious and political structures. We are like this I think. We don’t like to have our pre-conceptions challenged; we don’t like to even entertain the idea that God might not approve of everything we do; and we certainly don’t want to hear that our ways of thinking and doing things need to be challenged and even transformed.
This is the Gospel text for us today – look at yourselves (both individually and corporately) honestly and see yourselves through the lenses of the Gospel? Do you live in ways that reflect your faith and commitment to Jesus? Probably not – none of us do and for that we all need to ask for God’s forgiveness. But we can begin to take steps in that direction. Here are a couple things to think and pray about. 1. The Gospels make it clear that while God loves everyone, when it comes right down to it God is always on the side of those who are in need, those who suffer, those who hunger, those who grieve and those who struggle – and we are called to stand with those same people. 2. Jesus is totally and completely non-violent. Jesus makes it clear in many different ways that violence is never an answer to any situation. 3. Jesus always reaches out to everyone, especially those who are considered unworthy outcasts. Jesus is completely and totally inclusive of all.
Those three items are only a start – but perhaps they are a good start for us. For we tend to glorify those who are successful and wealthy and we tend to look down and even further victimize those who are poor or hungry or unemployed or struggling. And we can also be very exclusive and judgmental. We like to categorize people and we too often exclude and reject those who life styles are different from our own, or those who are from a different culture or have a different faith or whose skin is a different color. And we are a society that glorifies violence. Our Gospel today confronts us with this and calls for us to look at these and other issues long and hard and to ask God’s forgiveness and to ask God to begin to change our hearts and the focus of our community, so that we might also experience more fully the Kingdom of God come into our midst; so that God would transform our struggling, greedy, violent and self-centered world into a perpetual Jubilee year, where God’s love and grace and peace abound.