He was not the young man they had known before. They were sizing him up, as people in small towns will do, when he stood up in the synagogue to read from the prophet Isaiah. He read a fantastic and otherworldly passage, plainly not about Nazareth, but about some other place. And then he startled them all: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Was he talking about them? Or himself? And what did he mean by proclaiming right there, in his hometown, “the acceptable year of the Lord”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard? asks Isaiah. Those with ears to hear, let them hear, says Jesus. Day to day pours forth speech, says the psalmist, but God’s speech is pitched in such a register that many cannot distinguish it from silence.
They both were angry, and they had a right to be angry. Judy’s mother was chronically ill, and would be for the rest of her life. As an only child Judy felt responsible, and she did her duty, caring for her mother without assistance. She counted the cost all the way, exhausting people around her by eliciting sympathy from them, and then moving on to others. Judy talked often about what kind of help she needed, but she never actually looked for help. She had decided that God had willed her a difficult life, and that nothing would be good again until after her mother died and Judy was relieved of her burden.
In the play A Thousand Clowns, by Herb Gardner, a character named Murray discovers that he can offer a simple apology to almost anyone—even a complete stranger—and he or she will forgive him. He stands on the corner of 51st and Lexington in New York City one day, telling those who walk by him, “I’m sorry,” and in almost every instance, he’s forgiven on the spot.
In the days before every district superintendent carried a cell phone, driving the charge conference circuit was a great opportunity to listen to the radio. My favorite station was NPR. More than once I found myself totally enthralled by a broadcast story. Sometimes I would pull into my own driveway but be unable to get out of the car because I was a prisoner of a story. I sat on the edge of my seat, my hand ready to turn the car key, unable to move. Maybe it was the story about the little boy caught in a moral dilemma: he needed to tell his mother the truth about a neighborhood crime, but could not betray a confidence. What would he do?
Several decades ago, when I was filling out my application for seminary admission, I came to a question that asked me to provide biblical justification for my calling. I knew I wanted to attend seminary, but found it difficult to state why. Then I remembered my Wesley Foundation pastor preaching on 1 Corinthians 9:16b, and I wrote, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.” The text expressed the urgency I felt and even a tinge of divine necessity—although I think I knew even then that I was going a bit too far.
After meeting Jesus, an excited Philip seeks out Nathanael to tell him they have found the one “about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” But Nathanael’s response is not very promising. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” he responds skeptically.
When Sister Mary Corita was asked to submit a piece of her artwork for consideration in the Vatican exhibit at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, she chose to do a piece on the Beatitudes. Although it was not finally selected for the exhibit, the 4’ by 40’ banner is a dynamic, vibrant testament to Christ’s message.
The vagaries of the calendar and the cycles of the moon bring in an early Lent and Easter this year, and so the transfiguration has come early too, cutting short the season of Sundays after Epiphany. Unexpectedly, we find ourselves back up on the mountain with Jesus. We were just there to hear him describing those who populate the kingdom of heaven. Now he returns, not with all the disciples this time, but only the insider troika of Peter, James and John.
Gothic cathedral. A gay couple approaches holding hands. “Step aside, please,” say the muscle-bound guards. They speak similar words to an African-American girl, a Hispanic man, a young man in a wheelchair. Then, just as we realize that the two large men are “church bouncers,” the scene fades to black and the tag line reads: “Jesus didn’t turn people away. Neither do we.”