When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,because he has anointed meto bring good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim release to the captivesand recovery of sight to the blind,to let the oppressed go free,to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “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.” 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. --Luke 4:14-30 (NRSV)
It’s hard to go home, isn’t it?
I had a great aunt named Delores. She was my Grandma Gertie’s sister. Gertrude, or Gertie as she was most often called, was my maternal grandmother. Both of them had grown up on a farm, not more than 30 miles away from where I grew up. When my grandmother, who was older, graduated from high school and married my grandfather, well, they began to farm not more than 10 miles away from where all of them had grown up.
But, my Aunt Delores - she was different. After high school, she married my uncle and they moved to California, settling in the Bay Area. She was the first in her generation to move away from home and from the small, insular community in which most of them remained.
I’ll never forget a trip my Aunt Delores made back to our hometown in South Dakota. I think I was about 10 or 11 at the time. She stayed at my grandma’s house. My mom and sister and I went for a visit - it wasn’t often that she returned home. Somehow the conversation during that visit turned to Native Americans. I’ve mentioned to you before, I think, that the area where we lived was in between two reservations - the Cheyenne southwest of us and the Sioux northeast of us. Living beside Native Americans was a normal thing for us in our small town. Not that we really knew any of them, but they were present.
So, as we sat in my grandma’s living room, the conversation changed to the topic of our Native American neighbors. It’s fair to say, I think, that moving away from home can give one a broader perspective. Certainly, my Aunt Delores believed she had such a perspective. She started to lecture my grandmother on how badly the Native Americans in our small town were treated. I could see my grandmother get more perturbed and angry. And, although it was not typical for her to hold anything back, that day she did. Soon she got up to go into the kitchen. I followed her in there. When we got there, she turned to me and said, “That Delores! Just because she lives in California she thinks she knows everything.”
It’s hard to go home, isn’t it?
It’s kind of what Jesus was experiencing in our story today. He’d been raised in Nazareth most of his 30 or so years. He’d been away a little bit, going to the Jordan to be baptized. Then, tempted in the wilderness. Even, as our story hints, doing a little ministry away from home. Healing people.
But, as the story opens, Jesus is now back in Nazareth, his home town. And, as he’s done so many times before, he goes to the synagogue - this public place of scripture reading and discussion, open to everyone. Where children were taught, where the community gathered, where the administration of justice might even happen.
Jesus was familiar with the synagogue, it’s practice, and the people gathered there. They were familiar with him. So, it wasn’t unusual or unexpected when, as the hometown son returning, he was given the scroll of Isaiah to read. As he took his time unrolling and rolling the scroll, looking for chapter 61 - the passage we read last month - the people waited in anticipation. Then, finding it, Jesus began to read.
I remember when we studied this same passage from Isaiah late last year. This passage that took us back to the Levitical command for a jubilee year - that 50th year when the land was to lie fallow and everyone was to experience release from bondage, whether from debt or landlessness or incarceration. A command that seemed, from our 21st century eyes, completely impractical and, perhaps, even ridiculous.
But it is this text in Isaiah that Jesus chooses to read in his first ministry appearance in Luke’s gospel. What is even more astonishing was what Jesus did when he finished. He rolled the scroll back up. Gave it to the attendant. Sat down, as was the custom in that time for preaching. And he began to speak. Not to explain the text. But to make a claim. A claim of good news: that, in their presence, in that moment, in that place, this scripture was being fulfilled. In him.
Our text tells us that the people marveled. They were amazed. Perhaps, it was because they knew him as a child or teenager. Perhaps it was because they knew his father, Joseph. Or perhaps it was because they could sense it. That there, in their midst, was the long-promised One, the Anointed One.
But, things quickly took a turn. Because, these hometown folk have expectations. They believe that because Jesus is one of them, they will be the first to experience and benefit from Jesus’ power. When he quickly dispels them of this notion. When he tells them that the good news of God’s freedom and release is not just for them, but for everyone. When Jesus explains to them the radical inclusiveness of God’s reign, they get angry. And mob-like. Because they are ready for deliverance, but they are not ready to share deliverance. Good news, huh?
But, no one said that good news would be easy. Because the good news that Jesus preaches is about release from those things that bind us, like turning a blind eye to the mob led by white supremacists and Neo-Nazis and conspiracy theorists, many who exist in our own country under the banner of Christianity. Or, conversely, the hatred we feel for that mob, who, even though they should reckon with the consequences of their actions, are still human beings, created by God. In spite of hard hearts and violent mobs, Jesus still shows up with good news. Whether or not it is heard.
We are at a tipping point in our nation. A tipping point that it seems could easily swing in one direction or another. We are placed in the midst of this, just as the people of Nazareth were. In the midst of a decision. Where will you stand in the story? Will you celebrate the wideness of God’s mercy? Or will you trade God’s good news of release for a good news of your own design?
In Jesus, the scripture is fulfilled. And ready or not, come cliff or come cross, it will not be stopped. Jesus will lead us on a path that will take us, first, to the darkness of the tomb. And then, and only then, to the mountaintop of resurrection. Going home will never be the same. Amen.