by Dan Loch
This Sunday’s first two readings set the stage for the Gospel. First, Jeremiah declares his call from God was his destiny even before he was born: to proclaim the word of the LORD. Not easy, but God will fortify him; not deliver him, but make him crush-proof. Second, Paul’s praise of love, one of the best known Biblical passages, tells us that we can say all the right words about loving God and each other, but if we do not show it in how we live, then we are noisy gongs and clanging cymbals.
Then for this Sunday’s Gospel you have to remember last Sunday’s Gospel when Luke gave us the start of the story. Jesus comes back to Nazareth, his boyhood home. He takes his turn in the synagogue and reads from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” Jesus’ one-line commentary, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing,” means he has just read his mission statement, his destiny, as the Messiah.
Jesus knows the people are thinking he should do some miracles as proof of his statement. He doesn’t. Remember Mark’s (6:1-6) take on this same event: Jesus is amazed at their lack of faith and “was not able to perform any mighty deed there” in Nazareth precisely because of their lack of faith. Mark’s offended crowd vented, “Just
who does he think he is? We know him and his family. He’s the carpenter, for Christ’s sake!” Luke’s astonished crowd is hesitant and more respectful, “Can it be that he really is the Messiah? Joseph’s son!?”
Yet what drives the crowd here in Luke to try to throw Jesus off a cliff is that he dares to scold them — with the examples he uses from Elisha and Elijah. Bad enough that he makes clear that the Messiah is here for everybody, not just Jews. Many lepers and widows in Israel, yet the Syrian leper Naaman and the Sidonian widow, both non-Jews, were the ones helped. But it gets worse. Lepers were oppressed outcasts to Jews. And in Jewish tradition God entrusted all widows to the care of the whole town. Yet, many lepers and widows in Israel not helped. Jesus is reprimanding them for neglecting their duty of care.
Like Elijah and Elisha, Jesus was not sent only to the Jews: Ok, guys, if you can’t accept my message, I’ll take it to gentiles and the socially unacceptable. His message of release, recovery, and acceptance of the poor, afflicted, and oppressed is put right up front and the hope of salvation is offered to all people.
This Sunday’s Gospel makes me think. Was what Sister Mary Armbuster drummed into me in parochial grade school misguided? Was Jesus sent only to Roman Catholics? For that matter, only to Catholics? Only to Christians? Then I asked myself, What has Jesus said to get me annoyed? Well, likely candidates might be pesky toughies like “Love your enemies,” “Turn the other cheek,” “Forgive others,” “Do not judge,” not to mention the Parable of the Workers or the Prodigal Son’s brother. When you come right down to it, how comfortable am I at hearing what I don’t want to hear? And the kicker is: Do I have a sense of a duty of care for the poor, afflicted, and oppressed? Do I, as Paul advised,
show it in how I live? Is it my destiny? Many widows and lepers in the land. No getting around it: Christian love always and everywhere involves sacrifice.