Monday, April 11, 2005

Luke 4:14–30

We miss this: Jesus pissed people off. So much so that in this case, they took him to a cliff and were ready to throw him off.

And this is his very first “ministry event” after all the preparation. Birth, set-up, John the Baptist, lineage, baptism, testing in the desert, and here he is, ready to begin, and what he says so enrages the folks that they are ready to do him in, right then and there.

What does he say that so angers them? It started well enough. He reads the prophecy, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” which follows to detail the wonderful things he has been sent to do, to bring good news to the poor, release to captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, and so forth. And he says this is now fulfilled. “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.”

But then they wonder, isn’t this the kid we knew growing up? And at the first sign of trouble, he says that there are plenty of others. Elijah spurned Israel during a famine and brought salvation to a Sidonian widow. Despite plenty of lepers in Israel, Elisha cured none but the Syrian Naaman. It’s the same thing John said!

Jesus is repeating that all the earth is filled with candidate children for God, and God has done and will continue to do wonderful things to draw them in, with those who are hereditarily entitled possibly thrown out. And that enrages them, because, of course, they are the hereditarily entitled ones. It’s so, so easy to miss the point, and think this is merely about Israelite vs. Gentile. And it is partly about that. But it’s also so very much more.

It’s about never, never, never resting on one’s religious laurels, sure of one’s place, confident that one is on the inside. All those wonderful things in the prophecy, whose announced fulfillment had everyone thinking such good things about Jesus, were potentially for others. Eek! We thought he meant us.

Entitlement, of any sort, has absolutely no place in God’s kingdom. Nothing so enrages those who think they are entitled, the guardians of the social order, of the way things have always been. As soon as tradition becomes a self-confident assuredness that by keeping one’s tradition one is on the in with God, one is set and assured, one has become prone to reject Jesus when he tells you that you just might get passed over in favor of the outsiders, the unacceptible, the great unwashed (unbaptized?).

So whenever you hear anyone start saying that the tradition authorizes their message of exclusion and privilege, you know that they have left the Christian tradition, and headed off for something quite different, and that they are among those prepared to toss Jesus off the cliff for his challenge to their status.

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