Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘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 favour.’ And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 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.
Jesus came to cut bread, not to stick a religious knife into the backs of a common enemy, and the good citizens of Nazareth didn’t like it one bit! They’d come to the synagogue, eager to hear their “local-boy-done-good” celebrity. They expected – and needed – him to confirm their world view and their God-view: to ring the same old bells, baptise their prejudices and assumptions, assure them that the Good News of the Kingdom was first and foremost for them. If Jesus was special to God, then, by extension, so were they. After all, they’d shaped his thinking and faith! They didn’t mind the idea of God being a little bit biased, because, deep down, they knew it was towards them.
Jesus had no such intention. The new world of the Kingdom is, if anything, the polar opposite of their own vision of “Nazareth-writ-large”. God, Jesus tells them, is not in the business of giving everyone what they deserve, but what they need. It’s called “grace”, and it’s God’s version of fairness – of treating everyone equally. Which means that the people who always miss out – the people who can safely relegated to the “don’t need to worry about them!” category – go to the head of the queue. Worse still, “everyone” isn’t defined narrowly in terms of “Israel”, but the whole world!
When discipleship becomes “religion”, rather than a Jesus-shaped way of living and acting, we’re in very dangerous territory. That’s when we’re lulled into assuming that God’s intention is to make the world into a global version of the church, instead of hearing Jesus’ constant call and challenge to create church communities that are more and more like the transformed world of the Kingdom that God promises – a world in which the neediest, not the most religious, are God’s first priority.
Beauty for brokenness, Hope for despair: Lord, in the suffering This is our prayer. Bread for the children, Justice, joy, peace Sunrise to sunset Your kingdom increase! God of the poor, friend of the weak, Give us compassion, we pray: Melt our cold hearts, Let tears fall like rain. Come turn our love from a spark To a flame! Amen. (Graham Kendrick)
Lawrence Moore, Mission & Discipleship consultant, Worsley Road URC