January 30, 2022
Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” ’ And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ When they heard this, 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. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way. ***
If you have traveled between countries, you know that rules and procedures at borders vary widely. The borders between some countries are like crossing over state lines in the USA while others are extremely involved and laborious.
These days border controls change quickly based on public health concerns, economics, fear of terrorism and a host of other reasons.
Today’s reading involves a border control of a divine nature. It all began when Jesus returned home to Nazareth.
In previous verses, Jesus arrives at the local synagogue where he is asked to read from the Book of Isaiah. He chooses a passage from Isaiah 61 which 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.”
As was customary after the reading, Jesus sat down and shared an interpretation saying “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” It was a stunning statement. Some biblical scholars refer to it as Jesus’ first sermon.
In just a few words, Jesus lays out his priorities, telling of his character and mission. In nine words, He also outlines his platform: Good news to the poor, release to the captive, sight to the blind, letting the oppressed go free, declaring God’s favor, right now, here, today. In a word, we learn his politics.
The word “politic” comes from the Greeks (politiká, meaning ‘affairs of the cities’). It regards the set of activities that deal with the ways in which we order how we relate to one another and live together. In a fashion, this controls the borders we establish in how we deal with each other.
If you have been around study of the Word, you know God’s politic has always worked across borders. Yet today, this truth still is a source of dismay for some people.
I suspect many faithful Christians appreciate that Jesus was willing to cross borders to bring the grace and mercy of God to people who would have otherwise been overlooked or excluded. However, we still like to establish borders and walls when it comes to matters of faith. What I have come to realize is that whenever we build walls or establish borders two things happen.
First, we put ourselves on the right side, the good side, the inclusive side of the wall. Second, it is not long before securing and defending our borders become more important than the people on the other side. We no longer see their pain, hear their cries, or care much about their well-being. At best they become issues to be resolved or problems to be fixed.
There simply is no room for that in the politics of Jesus. Later in Luke’s account of Jesus, he will touch and cleanse lepers. He will eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners. He will heal on the Sabbath. Each one of those violates the accepted boundaries of the day.
That day in the synagogue the people of Nazareth started off liking Jesus’ message. God’s favor was expansive. The locals were amazed at their hometown boy! They wanted to claim him as one of them. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” The carpenter’s kid with the dubious birth story? It is easy to imagine the local people filling the synagogue wanting to see for themselves what they have been hearing about Jesus. Things like water turned into wine, diseases miraculously disappearing and demons scattering to oblivion. Surely, the locals must have thought if their boy were willing to peddle miracles to perfect strangers, he would do a hundredfold for them. Among his kin. His peeps. His hometown crowd.
And the implication is clear. They expected some political, if not divine favoritism. That is how border based politics works. But that’s not how Jesus’ politics works. And Jesus would not have it. What follows is the moment when He crosses the borders his hometown people were projecting upon him.
Jesus puts people first — above party or hometown loyalty. Using the Hebrew Scriptures, He gave them a history lesson. Taking them back to the Book of Kings, Jesus reminds them that God sent Elijah to feed a non-Jewish widow in a time of famine. Why? Perhaps because she was willing to first share her bread with him (1 Kgs. 17:10). Later, God sent Elisha to heal a non- Jewish leper, Naaman the Syrian. Why? Perhaps because he was willing, albeit after some negotiations, to receive God’s healing (2 Kgs. 5).
The locals were livid when Jesus claimed that the blessing he brings will go to outsiders whom they disprove of and not to the people in their town. In a sense he says “Hey, people of Nazareth, you don’t get to possess me for your own purposes. I work far beyond the borders of predictability and for people you would not consider deserving.”
This is still a hard and painful lesson for us to learn as it was for Jesus’ hometown people. Jesus’ politics not only challenged, but contradicted theirs, so much so that, “When they heard this, 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.” (verses 28–29)
We probably do not feel the impact of what Jesus said as intensely as did the people of Nazareth. I wonder if today the same message might sound like this: “Of all the jobless Christians in America during the pandemic, the prophet of God was sent to none of them except a Muslim refugee from Syria.”
If that gives you pause, then you are starting to grasp what Jesus said in Nazareth that day. If it does not challenge, then grasping the politics of Jesus is still an experience ahead for you, including the implications of Jesus’ crossing over the boundaries to bring divine favor to people on the other side of the walls that we erect.
What started as the hometown boy back in the local synagogue, set the trajectory for Jesus. We will see many more stories of Jesus crossing borders and boundaries. Which means there is good news ahead. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus and that is true for anyone we have put on the other side of the border, too.