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 favor.”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 hometown 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 hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up 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.

Luke 4:14-30

Pastor Marc's sermon for 4th Sunday after Epiphnay (February 3, 2019) on Luke 4:14-30. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


One of the difficult things about reading scripture is knowing when to pause. Our translations try to help by including periods and commas and other kinds of punctuation. But that doesn’t mean we always get it right. In fact our experience of Scripture can sometimes get in its own way. When Luke, with the work of the Holy Spirit, compiled his version of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, he expected people to interact with his words via their ears. The Christian community, at that time, was only two or three generations removed from Jesus’ public ministry. And small assemblies, of maybe a few dozen people, were scattered around the Mediterranean sea. On Sunday mornings, these groups would meet in a private house to pray, to talk about Jesus, and to eat. When they worshipped, someone was usually elected to read a piece of text from either a book or a letter or a scroll - out loud. No one else, in that gathering, would have those words in front of them. Instead, everyone would listen. Now, this pattern for worship is something we continue to this day. But our context has changed. We, in this church, pretty much expect everyone around us to know how to read. We print everything we need for worship in our bulletin, in a font size we hope you can see. And when someone at our church reads Scripture out loud, we can physically see each others’ heads and eyes bounce from one word to the next as we follow along. Our experience of Scripture in this place, and in other areas of our lives, happens via reading. And we have, as a community, become somewhat bound to how we read this written word. When we come to the end of a sentence, we hurry to the start of the next. And if we don’t run into a paragraph break, one where we have to physically shift our eyes down and to the left, we end up zooming through pauses that we’re not supposed to miss. When we read through Scripture, trying to get to the end of the text, we sometimes miss seeing those gaps of drama where we discover the long pause of new life that Jesus gives to all of us.

Now I already gave a hint of where I think the pauses matter in our gospel reading today. And those pauses bookend the second half of Jesus’ sermon. As we heard last week, this text is Luke’s version of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. After gaining a positive reputation while preaching around Galilee, Jesus headed back to his hometown of Nazareth and visited the synagogue he grew up in. While there, he was handed a scroll from the book of Isaiah to read out loud. So Jesus unrolled it, found a few verses from different chapters in Isaiah, merged the texts together, and summed everything up with a one sentence declaration. Everyone in the synagaoe was pretty impressed and they started to say really good things about him. But after a few moments, at the end of the verse 22, there’s this odd little pause and what the people thought they heard started to change. It’s as if the weight of Jesus’ words, after having a moment to linger in the ears of those who heard them, started to work on them in a different sort of way. No longer did they only hear the good things they thought they were entitled to. Instead, they realized that Jesus’ words were also convictng them. Jesus kept that energy going, upending their unspoken desire for him to make good on everything he said since he was the hometown kid. Instead, he pointed to examples in Scripture where God’s love went to places it wasn’t expected. Jesus brought up the prophet Elijah who traveled across the border, into a hostile and non-Jewish land, to bring healing to a non-Jewish woman and her family while the rest of the people of Israel suffered. And then, Jesus named another prophet, Elisha, who met up with Naamen the Syrian, a successful general who regularly won battles against the people of Israel and Judah. Neither the widow nor the general were seen as the ones who should receive the Lord’s favor. And yet that widow was fed in a time of famine and that general was restored to wholeness. Each of them were given a new opportunity to thrive while still participating in a non-Jewish way of life that challenged God. The king Naamen served and the kingdom where the widow lived would be a thorn in the side of the Israelites for generations to come. And yet God’s love went out to them, to a place and to a people where God’s love wasn’t supposed to be found.

So the community got mad because they felt entitled to a promise that Jesus knew was bigger than them. They heard about captives being freed, the oppressed being liberated, and good news being given to the poor but they missed how these promises undercut any sense of entitlement they thought they had. These promises weren’t theirs only because of who they imagined themselves to be. Instead, God’s promises always begin, and end, in what God does. And what God does is love which means the sense of entitlement found in Jesus’ hometown and the sense of entitlement found even in the church cannot limit what’s possible with God. When Jesus said, “today this scripture has been fulfilled,” he meant it. And a promise of good news for the poor does not mean that the financially secure will somehow get off scot free. Jesus isn’t interested in defining his life by what we think we, or others, deserve. He, instead, is our Savior which means the entitlements we articulate and those we silently hold onto don’t stand a chance. When we define our relationships to each other, our neighbors, and our world by what we think we deserve because of what we’ve done or because of whatever opinion we happen to hold, we suddenly find Jesus on the other side of that border we created, serving the widow we refused to see. Everytime we believe we are entitled to Jesus, Jesus pauses, giving us the space to get out of our own way so that we can see what God’s unentitled love actually does.

And that, I think, is what the second pause in our text gives us. At the end of verse 29, the crowd should have thrown Jesus off the clift. But they don’t. Instead, there’s this pause where, I think, the full weight of Jesus’ words became real to them. Because even though good news for the poor isn’t, initially, good news for the rich, Jesus’ words challenge all of us towards a way of life where even those who don’t expect God’s love actually receive it. Jesus isn’t bound to whatever entitlements, words, or experiences we find ourselves wrapped up in. Instead, we, through our baptism and through our faith, are offered a pause from our way of life and, instead, gifted his. Through his words, his presence, and his story, we discover a Savior who isn’t interested in what we think we’re entitled to. But rather, he’s much more interested in giving us a new way of love where the poor are entitled to good news, where the oppressed are entitled to freedom, and where all people, including a widow, a general, a member of his hometown synagogue, and even you and me are gifted a new life that finds its fullness, when we, like God, just love.