Reflection on the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 1:1-19 Psalm 71: 1-17 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 Luke 4:21:30
This morning’s Gospel reading from Luke follows directly from last Sunday’s reading. And the two together bring to completion Luke’s introduction of Jesus. From here on out, we will be reading of his ministry and its climax. Luke introduces Jesus’ through the details of his conception and birth, his genealogy, his baptism by John and his 40 days’ retreat in the desert. Throughout these events, Luke associates Jesus with the constant activity of the Holy Spirit.
So also, in the account of Jesus’ visit to his hometown, Luke begins, “Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee.” There he went to the synagogue and stood up to read from the prophet Isaiah: ‘The Spirit of our God is upon me … has anointed me … sent me.” Jesus rolled up the scroll and returned to his seat, saying, “Today in your hearing this scripture passage is fulfilled.”
Luke tells us that Jesus’ neighbors affirmed and complimented his reading of Isaiah. But then the evangelist puts into Jesus’ mouth some pretty stern words to his fellow townspeople. Whatever Jesus said made them angry enough to hustle him out of town and try to throw him over a cliff.
In between the townspeople’s delight in Jesus and their sudden rejection of him, it feels like something is missing. What happened to turn the tide? The text juxtaposes the affirmations with Jesus’ frank critique, suggesting that Jesus caused the trouble. Maybe. But I found other possibilities among the commentaries I consulted.
After reading the Isaiah text, Jesus sat down among the men. After saying “Today in your hearing this scripture passage is fulfilled,” perhaps Jesus went on to say more about Isaiah’s prophecy. Perhaps this was Jesus’ trial run at introducing his listeners to a new understanding of what God promised, beginning with Yahweh’s touchstone promise to send a savior to Israel.
Jesus spoke as a younger man to his home synagogue. They would have known that Jesus was recently baptized by John. Jesus himself was very likely still marveling at God’s affirmation of himself as son and beloved. Maybe Jesus felt impelled to share with his home community his growing sense of his mission. Imagine Jesus sitting in the synagogue saying something like this to people who had known him all his life: “You and I, friends, have been like the Israelites of old, expecting something from God, believing we are entitled to God’s favor. Since the prophets, we have believed that God will send a savior to us, God’s chosen people. We have waited for a savior to rescue us from captivity, from servitude, from humiliation, from pain. We expect the one who is coming to make everything okay for Israel. But I’m beginning to see that the Spirit of God is doing something different, something unexpected.
‘I have come to know our God as a loving Father. No father would ignore the sufferings of generations. Surely God has been sending saviors all along, to rescue both men and women, from beyond as well as within Israel, like Elijah with the widow and Elisha with the leper. The Spirit of God is love and whoever loves is manifesting the saving power of God. I think that’s the promise our God is fulfilling in our midst today. I am part of that promise and so are you. And it is a promise for all peoples.'”
If Jesus made a declaration like that, which is simply the main message of his life and death, his listeners would have struggled mightily to make the shift with him, from entitlement to inclusiveness, from power to compassion, from law to love. I hope some of the Nazarenes got over their outrage and followed Jesus. I pray I might get over my resistance and closemindedness and follow, too.
It is not an accident that the well-known passage from 1 Corinthians is paired with this morning’s Gospel, for it characterizes the many guises in which the Spirit of Love is present among us today, in fulfillment of God’s promise: Love is fierce, love is unrelenting, love is mercifully truth-telling. Love doesn’t coddle, doesn’t pander, never fudges the truth, always offers mercy. Love hangs in there, love comes back, love goes beyond hurts, love never retaliates, love never abandons, love never fails.
Love is realistic, persistent but never pushy, doesn’t blame or shame. Love accepts limitations and gifts and treasures generosity, looks beneath the surface, sees through pretense, understands circumstances, doesn’t set conditions.
Love is eager, delighted by goodness; love is not embarrassed to cry, not ashamed to grieve. Love rises above insult, love will not be humiliated. Love dares to trust love until death.
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