Enraging good news

For more commentary on this week's readings, see the Reflections on the Lectionary page, which includes the Myer Boultons' current Living by the Word column as well as past magazine and blog content. For full-text access to all articles, subscribe to the Century.

Jesus, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and still wet from his baptism, comes back to his home synagogue, publicly claims that he is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy, and is praised by everyone. Then, within five verses, everyone in the synagogue is filled with rage. They drive him out of town so that they might hurl him off a cliff.

What happened? After the reading and commentary, Jesus argues that—as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be—God’s good news is for the most vulnerable. This is hard to hear when you’re the rich one dressed in fine purple linen, passing by the poor man Lazarus covered in sores and begging to eat the scraps of food that fall from your table.

But just as God favored the widow at Zarephath in Sidon over the widows in Israel, just as God healed Naaman the Syrian even though there were many lepers in Israel, Father Abraham had mercy on Lazarus, the vulnerable outsider whose only company was the dogs who would come to lick his sores.

What’s striking about both of these passages in Luke is how challenging it is to hear God’s good news. The rich man who remained deaf to the good news all his life begs Abraham to go back and to warn his brothers, but Abraham replies, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.”

Similarly, the people in Jesus’ hometown synagogue have story after story in their tradition; they have Isaiah, Moses, and all of the prophets; they even have God wrapped up in flesh, Jesus of Nazareth. And so do we. And yet we don’t listen. We domesticate the gospel into some other message. We pass by on the other side.

Reading Luke 4, the temptation is to shake our heads at the Nazarenes—but we ought to read the story as a sobering warning directed at us, a cautionary tale akin to the story of Lazarus and the rich man. The gospel is challenging, provocative and sometimes downright enraging. It convicts us all. But therein lies its transformative power: humbling us to confession, luring us toward freedom, encouraging us to wrestle and search—so that, in the end, we might arise, shine and live fully human lives.


Get Over yourself!

Clearly our struggle is always to get beyond ourselves to a place where we can hear God's forgiving word.  Most of us, like the listeners in the Luke story, are much more comfortable with elevating our opinions and insights into importance, and then, worshipping them as the "truth."  This is particularly difficult in this day and age when people's opinions are immediately worshipped and given importance.  People quote commentaries from the current crop of "talking heads" on the cable networks or "talk radio" giving to them tremendsous influence and power over their own minds.  I am always reminded of that well worn cliche, "Please don't confuse me with the facts."  Maybe some comfort can be found in the reality that our human nature hasn't changed much over the centuries, and that God is still good and merciful.  If we could only refrain from inflicting violence on those who seem to disagree with us!

For the Marginalized and Oppresed

Jesus refers to two stories that characterize God's mercy. Only one is an oppressed person and possibly marginalized. The other is a rich and powerful oppressor who has marginalized Israel. He has a female slave he captured from Israel, and he considers Israel of less import than his own country. How does this figure in with gospel to the poor? Sure Naaman had leprosy, but those days it was considered a consequence of sin in Israel and not much of an issue in the surrounding peoples..

Is it also uncomfortable to imagine God showing mercy to one like Osama Bin Laden or Saddam Hussein?