4 Epiphany 16
Deacon Buck Close
Luke 4: 21 -30
In today’s gospel Luke continues the story of Jesus appearance in the
synagogue at Nazareth – his home town. The message of this passage –
at least on the surface – is presented in verse 24: Verily I say unto you,
No prophet is accepted in his own country.” This is a corollary to the old
saying that familiarity breeds contempt and we could simply accept this
story as evidence that Jesus wasn’t immune from the laws of human
nature and move on. But I suspect we all know that there is more here
than that simple message.
Please note the sequence of events. Jesus reads the passage from
Isaiah that we heard in last week’s gospel. After sitting down, he
comments that that scripture is being fulfilled – presumably in him. The
people “wonder at his gracious words and then remark, “Isn’t this
Joseph’s son?” So far so good. But this wasn’t the end of his
presentation. Rabbis preached sitting down. And what he said after
that cause the initial positive reaction of the crowd to turn very
So what angered the Nazarenes to the point that they wished to harm
or kill Jesus? It seems to center around Jesus’ message that God sends
his messengers to all sorts of people, not merely to the chosen. The
Nazarenes resent the fact that Jesus has been performing miracles in
other places. They taunt him and challenge him to do the same things
at home in Nazareth as he had at Capernaum. He replies with the line
from verse 24 about prophets not being accepted in their own home
towns but he goes on and gives two illustrations that anger the crowd
to the point of violence. Let’s look at those two examples.
1. Elijah, during a great famine, brought God’s help to a foreigner, a
widow, rather than to an Israelite.
2. Elisha, his chosen successor, cured a Syrian military man of
leprosy rather than curing one of the chosen people.
The point Jesus was making was that God’s love and mercy are
available to all sorts of people not just to the right sort of people. This
might be like someone going to a Jewish settlement today in occupied
Palestine and preaching that God loved a Palestinian rock thrower as
much as a Jewish settler. It might be like preaching that God cares as
much for a fundamentalist Muslim as he does for a fundamentalist
Christian. It might be like going into a black church in the south and
saying that God’s mercy is shared equally by a slain civil rights worker
and the racist bigot who condones his or her murder.
Preaching the radical love of God that knows no boundaries isn’t the
safe way to preach the gospel. But it is the only true way to do so. Jesus
consistently showed us – throughout his ministry – that we’d better not
get too comfortable with the world’s notions of who deserves God’s
love. The most reprehensible and undeserving characters, when they
finally seek God’s love, are accepted.
I would submit to you that the lesson of today’s gospel is not simply the
familiar “a prophet is not accepted in his own hometown.” No, the
more difficult lesson lies in examining what part of the message of
Jesus angered his townsmen. It was his message of the radical
inclusiveness of God’s love. Jesus came to bring the kingdom to all
people – not just nice people, not just churchgoers, not just proper
people, not just Jews, not just Gentiles, EVERYONE. This is easy to
accept until you start putting it into practice and you realize that it
means God loves someone who you cannot.
Example: When came back from Haiti right after the earthquake, I
heard that Pat Robertson – the conservative, fundamentalist evangelist
with whom I agree on absolutely nothing – had said that the Haitian
people had brought on the earthquake by having made a pact with the
devil during the slave revolt that won their independence 200 plus
years ago. Now, I thought that saying such a thing was both outright
evil and outright stupidity rolled into one noxious ball. And I wished him
ill for saying it. To accept the fact that God loved Pat Robertson just as
much as he loved me was tough medicine – but it was the gospel. And
when I take delight in judging Pat Robertson or anyone else and playing
God when I do so, I am turning away from the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We are no different from the people of Nazareth. We sometimes get
angry when we are confronted with having to love someone who we
have judged as unworthy of our love. We find it difficult, sometimes
impossible. At times like that, we simply need to be reminded that that
is the assignment – to love our neighbor. NO EXCEPTIONS.
And now, a brief word about the Royal Martyr whose sacrifice we
commemorate this afternoon at Evensong. Though a lifetime member
of the Society of King Charles the Martyr, I am by no means a leading
expert on his life and rule. So, rather than try to sound like one, I have
chosen to read for you the opening paragraphs of a sermon preached
on the occasion of the feast of S. Charles, King and Martyr in 1912 at St.
Cuthbert’s Church in Sussex, England. The preacher was one Ronald
Arbuthnott Hilary Knox. I think it will set you up nicely for our Evensong
We are met together, dearly beloved, to celebrate the festival of Charles,
King and Martyr, who laid down his life in defence of our most holy
Religion in the year of grace sixteen hundred and forty-nine.
Discrowned by his people, we dare not doubt that he has been crowned
in heaven; and although in the nature of the facts his local canonization
cannot, in the present divided state of the Church, be ratified by the Holy
See, we are come to pay him that veneration which was paid to every
Saint of the Middle Ages long before his cause had been tried, often
before his name had been heard, at the Court of the Popes. We claim for
him the privileges of a Saint, because he lived a life of personal holiness
and devotion unexampled among the princes of his age, because he died
at the hands of the enemies, the avowed enemies, of the Church, because
his death was sealed by miracles wrought by God’s grace even from the
handkerchiefs which had been dipped in his blood.
We venerate him also as a martyr, because he might at the last have
saved his life if he had been content to lose it by helping to destroy the
order of Apostolic [1/2] succession handed down to us from Augustine.
We do not thereby necessarily assent to the policy he pursued while yet
on the throne, a policy which to him, thinking with the mind of his times,
seemed the only possible one for the maintenance of religion in England.
It is not the Court of Star Chamber or of High Commission which we
commemorate to-day; it is the sentence, the axe, and the block, and the
royal blood staining the January snow.