Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Among Us

After being tempted for 40 days in the desert, Jesus began teaching in Synagogues throughout Galilee. And then he went to the synagogue in Naazareth--his hometown.

Jesus stood before the assembly to read. Luke tells us that he was handed the book of Isaiah. Jesus didn't choose the book, but he chose the passage. And he read these words that had been written about him more than 500 years before he graced the earth with his presence:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
19 To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord."

Then he sat down. But all eyes were still on him.

And there, among his people, sitting in their midst, he says, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

Next, Jesus will tell them some rather shocking news, but he doesn't do it from the pulpit. He doesn't say hard things from a distance, as if to place himself above the crowd. He is Emmanuel, even in this moment. He is God with us.

And so he continues his message, speaking to friends, neighbors, family members, and ancient rabbis who had taught him to read scripture in the first place. I imagine his sincerity, and his sadness. He knows that they are not going to like what he has to say. He anticipates the coming rejection. And yet he speaks the words that will enrage this crowd so severely that they will attempt that very day to throw him off of a cliff. Friends, neighbors, and family members, no less.

Jesus begins to talk about some well-known stories from the Torah. First he reminds them of the great famine during the days of Elijah. He says that while there were plenty of hungry widows in Israel, Elijah was sent to the aid of Zarapeth, who was in Sidon. Then Jesus tells them that in the days of Elisha there were lepers in Israel, but Elisha only healed Naaman, the Syrian."

And for that, they tried to kill him.

It seems to be a rather strong reaction to the retelling of some stories right out of thier own scriptures. But Jesus didn't just tell the stories, he pointed out something significant about those stories. Something that had perhaps gone unnoticed in prior readings. And Jesus' obsevations favored the "outsiders" over the "insiders."

I can't quite come up with a modern day equivalent to what happened, and in many ways it would be wrong to pull this account out of its historical context. But this gist of it is this: Jesus told the religous regulars that God cares about those who are not part of their congregation. He told them that healing and freedom and hope were being poured out on those whom they had scorned and rejected. And the good church people went postal.

I struggle with this story--because I am one of the good church people. I am a Christian "insider." When I read this story, I picture myself sitting on the second pew on the left hand side of the synagogue, feeling smug in my chosen-ness.

I begin to wonder if Jesus has turned his back on his own people, and then I remember that he sitting among them. Counting himself as one of them. One of us.

He isn't drawing dividing lines, he's erasing them. No more were there to be "insiders" and "outsiders." No more us and them.

I think that was his point.

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