Sunday, February 3, 2019

A Call For Change

February 3, 2019 –– 4th Sunday in  Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 1:4–5, 17–19 /  Psalm 71 / 1 Corinthians 12:31–13:13 / Luke 4:21–30
A Call For Change

Change is hard. We are mostly creatures of habit. We get accustomed to traditional expectations, familiar friends, and particular routines in our own lives.

Perhaps change is the very hardest when it is something that threatens the essence of the way we see ourselves It’s really hard when we realize that the highest values we hold have lost their place in the world at large. That's one way to see this incident of Jesus in his hometown.

We know things about Jesus that his hometown did not know. We have the whole story in the Gospels. We have almost 2000 years of Christian Tradition. We know to expect the life and words of Jesus to be different and challenging because he was and is the Son of God.

So as we come to this story about Jesus in Nazareth, we have inside knowledge. The hometown people of Nazareth did not know what we now know. These are people who would have had well-defined expectations. As first-century Jews, they expected the Messiah to come some day and turn their fortunes around. Coming out of that was  a bit of prejudice. God's promises were for them (and them alone)..

Do you see the collision? There is Jesus with his mission from the Father as it came with the fresh life of the Holy Spirit. Here are people with their own expectations of what God is going to do, how he's going to do it, and who he will do it for.

Jesus read from Isaiah. It was a Scripture that triggered the hopes the people would have had. Jesus said he was the one to fulfill this prophecy. At first it seems they might believe him. They had never heard Scripture read like that before. And no wonder––can you imagine what it must have been to hear the Living Word read the written Word?  But the doubt trickles in. "Isn't this Joseph's son?” they asked. Again, they didn’t know what we know. Jesus was not “Joseph’s son” in the way they assumed.

It's here we see something else about Jesus. He doesn't coddle unbelief. He is like an Old Testament prophet. Jeremiah described some of this in the first reading. We might think that Jesus would have responded with understanding. He could have said, "I know it must be hard for you to believe this, but,…" Instead Jesus responds in a way that he does again and again: he says something else to push the offense.

He told them two Old Testament stories that they knew very well. In the two stories, the one common theme is that God's grace came to the outsider instead of an Israelite. It was a Gentile woman and a Gentile man that received the prophet's blessing. Jesus was telling them that their attitudes were causing a repeat performance; he was bringing good news to those who could truly receive it––people like Gentile sinners. If they were not open to that, they were acting like those who persecuted the prophets of old.

We need to recognize that it is easy for us to be like the townspeople in Nazareth––expecting God to fulfill all our hopes while at the same time trying to keep our own boundaries and prejudices. This cuts us off from people God loves––people God wants to love through us.

We come to church each week, I hope, because we want to identify with God's good news. Jesus' words to the people of Nazareth tell us it is not good news if we can't get beyond our own expectations.

Jesus brings all people to a point of decision. He pushed the issue with his hometown people. He will push issues in our lives. And the big issue is simply this: are we going to be like Jesus, or like the people of Nazareth? How tightly do we hold to our own boundaries and insist on our own way?

This kind of change does not come easily, but change is what Jesus is after for all of us. He does not intend to leave any of us the way we are. We all need to be in that process of change that turns sinners into saints. Our calling is to be like Jesus and not like the people at Nazareth.

God is always asking us to change our minds about things that pad our self-interest. God is asking us to change our minds about who is worthy of our attention and our love. It may mean changing our expectations of what it means to be the Church. It will surely mean going against the prejudices that are accepted by the popular culture around us.

Our culture has many wrong ideas, but there is one that needs to be front and center before us right now. As the attempted justification of late-term abortions swirls around, we need to know and proclaim (and vote): it is never okay.

We are called to invite the Spirit that lived in Jesus to extend God's kingdom through what we believe and say and do. That is the way sinners are changed into saints.

No comments:

Site Meter