Jesus: Our Guy?
Jan 30, 2022
Fourth Sunday of Epiphany
Text: Luke 4:21-30
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
I want to begin today with a story that may be told in Lutheran churches throughout the United States today. That’s because ELCA pastor Katie Hines-Shah shared it in a recent edition of the Christian Century. She writes that a few years ago, she asked her six-year-old daughter what she learned in Sunday School that day. The child put down her fork, turned to her mom, and said in a very serious tone, “We learned that Jesus was not a Lutheran!” What a shock!
Being a 21st-century Mom, Pastor Hines-Shah then posted this stark theological revelation on Facebook. Then came the comments: “Of course not, Jesus was a Presbyterian.” Another person quipped, “Next they will be telling her he wasn’t even a Christian.” And, her favorite was from a fellow pastor, “What incompetent pastor approved that curriculum?” She says that although we know that Jesus was a middle eastern Jew, the joke is that somehow, we imagine Jesus was like us. (1)
We all like to think that Jesus is “our guy,” more so than someone else’s guy. That was the case in today’s Gospel lesson, at least as it began. Picking up where we left off last week, Jesus’ public ministry had just begun. Following his baptism, he was tempted in the wilderness and prevailed. He was filled with the Spirit and then began his ministry in his home territory. As he taught in the synagogues of Galilee, word began to spread, and “he was praised by everyone.”
He then arrived in his hometown of Nazareth, where he was invited to read and interpret scripture. So it is that he proclaimed the words of the Prophet Isaiah, “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.” Then he sat, and the eyes of all were upon him as he announced, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
The crowd’s initial response is clear, “they all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” But then someone asked, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” It seems to me that there are a variety of ways that question could be understood. Perhaps someone is simply confirming who Jesus is, to what family he belongs. Or maybe the statement is an expression of surprise; is he really the one we’ve longed for all our lives? Or they could be appalled that Jesus is claiming such authority and since he’s known to them, question, “Who does he think he is?”
Remember, before this statement everyone liked him, he was being accepted, Jesus was doing well, so why did he react as he did, with a challenging tone? Perhaps he could see the malice in their eyes even before the statement about being Joseph’s son was spoken.
Commentator Chelsey Harmon writes that although their hearts were captured momentarily, the “wait a minute” was not far behind. “Wait a minute … isn’t this the carpenter’s son.” Then other questions would start, perhaps something like: How can he help the poor? He is poor himself. He was born in a stable, wasn’t he? What does he know about setting prisoners free? He doesn’t have any real power. How can he give sight to the blind? He can’t be claiming to have that kind of miracle-working ability, can he? Then they begin to wonder if all the things they’ve heard about Jesus are true or just rumors.
Let me quote Professor Harmon, “It is as though they can’t believe in what they did not expect. They can’t trust anything different than what they demand. They can’t receive because they have become accustomed to dictating what is acceptable. They won’t listen to God (through the prophets) because they think they know best.” (2)
At this point, when Jesus notes that a prophet is not accepted in the prophet’s hometown, we can imagine that a lot of murmuring and grumbling has begun. What Jesus says next turns the grumbling to fury.
Jesus pointed out that it was not always the Israelites who had received God’s blessings. He reminded them that the widow of Zaraphath and Naaman, both of whom could be described as enemies of Israel, received mercy and blessing because of their faith. WOW! The crowd did not want to hear that, or the expanded meaning that was even harder to take, which was that the Israelites rejection of the prophets cut them off from the work of God.
No one wants to hear that their actions have cut them off from God’s blessings or that people they do not view as worthy have actually received mercy from God. So, just as ALL spoke well of Jesus initially, now ALL are filled with rage. He is no longer “our guy.” This rage is so intense that they want to hurl Jesus off the cliff. “But,” we read, “he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.”
We could spend some time debating how that happened if it could be classified as a miracle, but since there’s no way to know, instead, I want to focus on this question. I wonder how often Jesus passes through our midst, but we are so preoccupied with what we expect, demand, or view as acceptable that we miss him? Often, we are unwilling to consider the unexpected ways the Holy Spirit is at work among us.
Jesus is not “our guy,” but “everyone’s guy” in ways that we cannot even begin to imagine. I like how Pastor Hines-Shah describes the phrase “passing through the midst (or middle) of them.”
“Jesus goes through “the middle.” He refuses to be caught in the binary trap. He is not pro-Jew and anti-Samaritan. He is not pro-Capernaum and anti-Nazareth. He won’t be pinned down as supporter of any political party or football team. Jesus will not be a Presbyterian, or, as much as it pains me to say it, a Lutheran, he won’t be contained.
In this world it is always true that something about us will make us unworthy in another’s eyes – how we look, what we believe, who we vote for, where we live, our abilities or challenges … the list could go on and on. “But, when the world draws a line, Jesus steps across to the other side.” (3)
Perhaps it’s too soon in Jesus’ unfolding story for the people of Nazareth to grasp any of this about the hometown boy. But that’s not the case for us. Jesus’ love is big enough to encompass our often too small vision, and to transform it and us. But, for that to happen, we must be willing to acknowledge that our point-of-view is too limited. If there is anything these pandemic days have challenged the church to do, it is to acknowledge that truth.
Jesus does pass by us, but hopefully not to escape our short-sightedness as was the case that day in Nazareth, but instead to bring us to a new way of being, and sharing, his good news. AMEN
(1) “Reflections on the Lectionary” by Katie Hines-Shah, Christian Century, January 12, 2022, pg. 23
(2) “Sermon Commentary for Sunday, January 30” by Chelsey Harmon, www.cepreaching.org
(3) Same as #1