Sunday 30th January

1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30

According to Luke (4:22) When Jesus addressed the congregation in Nazareth, the town where he had been brought up, 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?” But then something happened,  the mood changed and became ugly. Luke says (verse 28/29) that  “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.

Whatever caused this very dramatic change?

Luke places this story at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry,  not out of of concern for chronology, but to  present his readers with a summary or preview of his ministry, and indeed of the ministry of the church recorded in the book of Acts (also written by Luke).In other words – the story of Jesus and the early church writ small so we can see it clearly.

Just as the crowds, at the prompting of the religious leaders, turned on Jesus and demanded his crucifixion so also the people of Nazareth became enraged at his preaching and attempted to throw him off a cliff. This is an example of the way people often respond to the ministry of Jesus which is repeated over and over again and throughout the ages. The Fourth Gospel also refers to the hostility Jesus’ appearance  provoked “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him”. (John1:11)  We might ask, Why did his own people, turn against him?

Almost certainly, according to Luke,  the good news Jesus announced was not intended just for them, but  for others beyond the local community of Nazareth, beyond the cosy company of family and friends and the  comforting familiarity of the Hebrew tradition. Jesus was hinting that  he did not just  belong to his parents, nor to the synagogue, nor the Jew but to the whole of humankind. To emphasise this He referred them to their own scripture—to a time when there was a great famine in the days of Elijah. Although there were many widows in Israel, Elijah was sent to a widow in Sidon!  Sidon is outside Israel! Then there was a time when there was an outbreak of leprosy in Israel, but Elisha was sent to somebody from Syria – an old enemy of Israel.

The problem with the people of Nazareth was not doubt. The problem is that they assumed certain privileges for themselves, and no one else. They wanted to keep Jesus all for themselves; they were the ones who deserved God’s favour. They were too possessive and resented God’s favour being extended to outsiders.

Throughout the Bible there are examples of God caring for outsiders as Jesus was so willing to point out to them. But such stories provoked rage in the people of Nazareth. They were in a kind of cultural bondage, imprisoned by their own provincialism. That was the reason their rejection of Jesus. Jesus did not move on from them because he was rejected. Rather, Jesus was rejected because he moved on.

There is a human propensity,  which is present in almost every institution, family, church, race, and nation to claim a monopoly of special privileges . It is a condition called possessiveness. It is cliquish, private and exclusive. It’s afraid of outsiders and indifferent to them.

Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians,(Cor.13:1-13), is often the Reading many couples choose to be read on the occasion of their marriage. But it is not just meant for married couples. Whenever we draw boundaries around this love, when we keep it to ourselves , It is diminished, and it becomes exclusive; but love by definition is INCLUSIVE.

When congregations regard the church more for themselves than for the world; whenever  we see no need to understand other cultures or races; when we are afraid to explore  and accept other traditions; when nations spend more money defending themselves than aiding the common right of all humanity; when we fear outsiders we deny God’s universal love and cut ourselves off from love’s healing influence. Whenever churches invest more in their own survival, cling to the past  rather than engage in mission, we alienate Jesus who forever moves on ahead of us.

The Good News which Jesus announced is not something we can possess. It is Good News to all and not least to the vulnerable, the oppressed, the poor and the alienated. We can be part of that movement,  agents of hope and reconciliation,  justice and solidarity, or we can keep it to ourselves. Jesus passed through the midst of them. and moved on. He had a mission to fulfil, and he still does.  “Let me go,” he says, but even better “come with me”.  As you move on, I will be with you!

Revd Michael Diffey