Reading for Fourth Sunday after Epiphany: Luke 4:21-30
Peace be with you!
The routines at home and in our communities are comfortable and easy. We know what is expected of us, and we often go about our business with a sense of privilege and purpose. We also know whose job proceeds and falls our task. We know who does what and when. A community evolves around its individuals and their assigned tasks. Yet what happens when someone tries to expand the community to include more people? What happens when a company expands its operations? What happens when a congregation expands its outreach program?
In the previous devotion, Jesus was in his hometown synagogue and read Isaiah 61:1-2 to the assembly (Luke 4:16-19). We discussed how Isaiah 61:1-2 is Jesus’s job description as the Messiah—to release captives, to give the blind sight, and to set the oppressed free (Luke 4:18b). God calls upon Jesus to make his kingdom inclusive and to welcome all people, not just a select few, to know the good news. In this devotion, we read about the Jews’ reaction to Jesus’s message.
In Luke 4:21, Jesus proclaims Isaiah 61:1-2 is being fulfilled in the here and now. The Messiah has come into the world to release captives, to give the blind sight, and to set the oppressed free (Luke 4:18b). The time is now.
At first, the Jews in the synagogue are excited and amazed by the news. They ask, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22c NRSV), though Jesus said the Jews will wonder why he has not done the signs and miracles that he did in Capernaum in his hometown of Nazareth (Luke 4:23b). Surely, the Jews in Nazareth feel Jesus should give the hometown crowd special treatment. Surely, Jesus will show the Jews in Nazareth his extra-special powers. However, Jesus is not just in the world for the select few who already know God the Father but also for those who are on the outside. This is why Jesus quickly becomes hated in his hometown (Luke 4:24, 28)—the good news is not just for the Jews, God’s select chosen people.
Jesus goes on to explain how Elijah was not sent for everyone but to a few chosen people. God sent Elijah to widow at Zarephath in Sidon and a leper named Naaman the Syrian whom he helped through difficult times (Luke 4:26-27). There were a few select Gentiles who God the Father led Elijah and Elisha to help and heal. This exclamation outrages the Jews who are listening, and they plot against Jesus to kill him (Luke 4:28-29). Jesus escapes the angry crowd (Luke 4:30) by going on his way.
Jesus chose to lift up the widow and the leper to communicate that God sent him into the world for the outsiders—the ones who are not welcomed in town and live on the outskirts. Jesus is not just in the world for people who have faith in the Lord; his ministry reaches beyond the boundaries in order to include everyone. Jesus comes into the world for the broken hearted—the ones left behind.l
When Jesus preaches this message, the Jews, his neighbors, reject his teaching (Luke 4:24). His neighbors had high hopes for Jesus as a preacher, but this message goes against everything they believe. The Jews are God’s chosen people. In their minds, God would never open his arms to the non-Jews, the Gentiles, the Samaritans, and the other outsiders. The Lord would never want impure people mixed with his chosen ones. The Jews cannot accept Jesus’s teachings about welcoming the stranger.
Yet this does not stop Jesus from going into the world and preaching the good news: the stranger is welcome in the Kingdom of God. His hometown neighbors may not be able to accept the good news, but the world will hear it and the stranger will be invited. Jesus will go out into the world and have conversations with the Samaritan woman, the Gentiles, the blind, the lepers, the crippled, the hungry, the poor, the prostitutes, and so on, because they are welcomed into the Kingdom of God.
The good news is for us today as much as it was for the people two thousand years ago. We, the Gentiles, are welcomed into the Kingdom of God. “We” means the sinners, the unbelievers, the poor, the lost, the blind, the crippled, the drug addicts, the strippers, the bullies, the confused, and so on. We are all welcomed into the Kingdom of God, not because we have earned it by any means but because God loves us so much that he wants to be in a relationship with each one of us.
At different times in my life, people have asked me, “How can you hang out with that person?” The reason is simple: Jesus did and would hang out with those people. I may not be the most comfortable around some people, but Jesus calls me to share the good news with all people, not just those like myself. Jesus pushes us beyond our comfort zone. Why should we ignore individuals who are different than us? How can we walk past the homeless without offering a place to stay? How can we walk past the disabled without offering help? How can we walk past the hungry without offering some food? The world is filled with individuals who make us uncomfortable. However, Jesus calls us to share the good news with anyone who is willing to listen, because it is for everyone.
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for exceeding the Jews’ expectations by inviting us, the Gentiles, into your kingdom. Help us to understand that the good news is not for a select few but for all people. Show us the way to continue to invite the stranger into a relationship with you and into your kingdom. Push us out of our comfort zone, so we can share the good news with all people. Thank you for sharing the good news with us. Amen.v