Monday, July 12, 2010

Rejected: Jesus and the Word (2)

07/11/2010 Bethany, baptism at 9:00
Luke 4:14-30
Psalm 19 (call to worship)
John 8:2-11 (children)

Last week, we began this short series from Luke 4 on Jesus and the Word. From the temptation story, we saw Jesus revealed as Son of Adam, Son of God and three dimensions of his sonship:
Sonship as faithfulness to the Father
Sonship as filling with the Spirit
Sonship as formed by the Scriptures

Many of the themes from last week carry over into this portion of the chapter:
filling with the Spirit: “Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit” and “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me”
formed by the Scriptures: Jesus is in the synagogue reading and teaching from the Scriptures. Jesus is presenting himself as the fulfillment of the promise of Scripture.
Sonship itself: “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” Jesus is speaking out of turn, not in line with his social station.

In addition, last week, when Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy, those passages referred to stories in Exodus in which Israel had disobeyed. This time, Jesus reads from Isaiah – and this is not a direct quote from one passage but a combination of two passages from Isaiah. One of those passages is a critique of Israel’s religious practices – particularly their fasting – because it was not combined with justice, with “letting the oppressed go free”.

When Jesus refers to the stories of Elijah and Elisha, he is comparing Jewish religion in his own time with that earlier era, one of the darkest ones in Israel’s history, with institutionalized idol worship and insecure rulers.  Again, like the first portion of Luke 4, Jesus is presented as the one who fulfills what Israel could not (Bock, 136-137).

But let’s move beyond the echoing themes to the dynamics of this portion itself. Jesus has been teaching throughout Galilee “and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country”. He is becoming successful, he is being recognized, he is doing great.

He comes to Nazareth and is the guest speaker on the Sabbath, reading from Isaiah and describing his unique mission. “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” Then, however, the question of sonship is raised and Jesus responds directly with two contemporary proverbs and the story of Elijah and Elisha. They want to kill him, but he walks away.

Since when has success looked so much like rejection (Fitzmyer, 528)?
I am reminded of a scene from the movie Dave, a 1993 film featuring Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, and Frank Langella. It is delightful piece, mostly a romance, with some intrigue woven in. Kevin Kline’s character is a look-alike for the president, who is suffering from a stroke, and he is asked to stand in for the president for a while. When he meets the president’s estranged wife (privately estranged but publically close), she can’t stand him. He later tells the chief of staff, with complete surprise and disappointment: “She hates me!” And the staff exclaims, with fist pump, “Yes!”

One of the other dynamics of the passage is Jesus’ homecoming. Our relationship with home can be fairly complicated. I left home for college and my parents rented out my room . . . for a couple months that turned into a few years. It can be a tough thing to articulate who we are as individuals in a way that separates us and distinguishes us from home. This week, one of the biggest stars in the NBA, LeBron “King” James, chose to leave his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, the team he entered the draft early to join, for the Miami Heat. Only time will tell if he wins the championships he desires. One thing is sure, though – he is getting rejected by the hometown fans.

As we did last week, we are looking at the story for what it reveals to us about Jesus. Two themes emerge, both based on Jesus success and rejection. The first theme is Incarnation and the second is Inclusion.

Incarnation: Incarnation is the biblical teaching that Jesus, fully God (Son of God), became fully human (Son of Man/Son of Adam). This includes all those wonderful bodily functions about which we’d rather not speak, such as digestion with its acids and gases. It includes skin and breathing, walking and sweating, experiencing pain and enjoying a great meal. Over and over throughout history, folks have rejected this idea and rejected Jesus. We’d rather have a more spiritual Jesus and a more spiritual salvation. Because, among many reasons, our sins in the body wouldn’t matter as much, we wouldn’t have to learn to love the bodies God made for us, and we could avoid the full impact of death if we really aren’t our bodies after all.

When we recite the creed, “I believe in Jesus Christ, . . . conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary”, we are reinforcing this idea, that we believe in Jesus as both fully God and fully human.

Of course, Jesus’ audience wasn’t responding to a fully developed doctrine of the incarnation. They were responding to an incarnational idea: “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” Jesus’ credentials were lacking – as the hometown boy he was too familiar, as a carpenter’s son he was too working class. He’s all too human and he doesn’t meet our expectations.

They were responding to another incarnational idea: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled.” Jesus presents himself as embodying, incarnating, the promise of Scripture. And, though his words sound wonderful, they aren’t about to let him get away with such an audacious claim.

Inclusion: Inclusion is a critical dimension of Jesus’ mission that he describes in two different ways in this story. First of all, he speaks from Isaiah about the promise of Jubilee – the 50th year in which all debts are forgiven. This comes as “good news to the poor”. The Hebrew term in Isaiah is “anawim”, a word for the humble poor, those oppressed by the merchant and ruling classes. If debts are truly forgiven, that’s great news for the poor – but bad news for the lenders. We recently lived through that tension on the national stage as we tried to figure out the best way to deal with the mortgage crisis. On the international level, debt is the biggest obstacle to the development of the “third world”, and many folks champion the forgiveness of third world debt on the idea that a more developed world will enrich all of us. The folks with the money just aren’t in a hurry to forgive debt. No wonder there is no record of Jubilee being practiced in the entire history of Israel. Only in Jesus does it find its fulfillment. While that fulfillment represents an incredible success, it is the cause of his total rejection.

Inclusion in Jesus’ mission is described in economic terms with the theme of Jubilee. And Jesus takes it further to describe it in racial-ethnic terms when he rehearses the stories of Elijah and Elisha, prophets of Israel whose great miracles were performed for despised foreigners while the people of God missed out on the goodness. It’s tough enough to hear Jesus say that he is including foreigners, different folks, unclean folks, people you don’t want to meet in heaven in his kingdom. It’s even tougher to hear that I, as scrupulously religious as I am, as faithful in spiritual disciplines as I am, that I might be passed over in God’s mission.

In our baptismal vows, we ask:
Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior,
put your whole trust in his grace,
and promise to serve him as your Lord,
in union with the church
which Christ has opened to people
of all ages, nations, and races?

We say in response, “I do”. But, if we are honest with ourselves, there are times we’d like to put limits on the mission. As soon as we do, Jesus shows up, reads the Scripture, and adds insult to injury. If we’re not careful, we’ll find ourselves like Cleveland, watching the King head off to the next town.

Augustine, Confessions, Book XI “Time and Eternity”, 31.41:
O how exalted are you, and yet the humble of heart are your dwelling place! You “lift up them that are cast down”, and they do not fall down whose place aloft is you.

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