Do we want a gracious God?
In tomorrow's Gospel reading, we continue from last week when we read of Jesus going to the synagogue in Nazareth. Jesus tells those gathered for worshop that day,
Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.This mention of what God did and did not do during the time of Elijah and Elisha gets folks angry. Luke's Gospel tells us,
When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.Brian P. Stoffregen offers the following reflection on the text:
Jesus says the wrong things for this crowd. He recalls a story from Elijah's time. God miraculously provided food for a poor, pagan widow. There were many poor, starving widows in Israel during the famine who didn't receive any miraculous food. The crowd in the synagogue starts mumbling to each other: "Is he saying that God likes Gentiles better than Jews? Jesus' had better watch what he says."The full text of his reflection on the readings for tomorrow is found here: CrossMarks Christian Resources.
Jesus recalls a story from the time of Elisha. God miraculously cured Naaman, a pagan leper. There were many sick lepers in Israel during that time who received no miraculous cure. The crowd's whispers are getting louder. "Is he saying that God prefers the pagans" That's not what we came to hear? We want to hear some harsh words of judgment. We want Jesus to urge the Jews onto living and acting right. We want him to drive out the Gentiles. Why did he use those examples? Why did he talk about God helping pagan Gentiles? He should be warning us to stay away from those Gentiles. If God likes the Gentiles so much, what's the use in being a Jew, keeping all those commandments? He's going to destroy what little faith there is left in Nazareth."
In essence, the people declared Jesus a false prophet. He was blaspheming the faithful, pious Jew. He was praising the sinful, pagan Gentiles. The punishment for false prophecy is death. They try to destroy Jesus. He just wasn't what they expected. He didn't do the miracles they expected. He didn't say the words that they expected. He had to be a false prophet, because he didn't act like they wanted him to act.
Isn't this story similar to the parables in Luke 15: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son? In each case, others are invited to rejoice over the lost being found. We don't know the response of the neighbors in the first two parables, but we know that the older brother in the third one can't rejoice with his father and participate in the extravagant feast.
The people in Nazareth recognize and marvel at Jesus' "gracious words" (v. 22); but when illustrations of God's grace to outsiders are given; their feelings turn to rage. They are also hearing that God does not act the way they want God to act. Do we really want a gracious God? Certainly we do -- for ourselves; but can we have a gracious God if we don't believe that the same grace is given to those sinners outside our church doors, outside our faith, outside our boundaries of acceptability?
The Very Rev. Robert Wright, a fellow Fighting Friars football team member with me in seminary, also offers a nice reflection on our epistle reading for Day One: Love Is For Grownups
Labels: Gospel reading