Sunday 3 March 2013

Have you set limits on where, when and in whom God can work? Will you leave God free? Will you let God be God?

To read the texts click on the texts: 2 Kgs 5:1-15a; Lk 4:24-30
The text begins with the words “Truly I tell you” which is used six times in the Gospel of Luke and always to introduce a solemn statement. Luke alone uses it here to introduce the proverb that follows. This proverb is found also in Mark (6:4), Matthew (13:57) and John (4:44), but in a different form there. In Luke, the proverb is given in a negative form and “hometown” may also be translated as “home country”. This leads to the interpretation that Jesus will be rejected not only by the people of Nazareth (his hometown) but also by the whole of Israel (his home country).The references to Elijah and Elisha are to reinforce the statement made namely that the blessings of God were not restricted to one particular group or community but were available to all peoples. No one was excluded from the graciousness of God and from his bounty. This statement of Jesus enraged the people who were listening to him and drove Jesus out of their town. Though they were hostile to him, Jesus did not let that deter him, but continued to do what he was meant to do.

This scene suggests that the basis for their hostility toward Jesus was a difference in the way they read the Scriptures. The people of Jesus’ hometown read the Scriptures as promises of God’s exclusive covenant with them, a covenant that involved promises of deliverance from their oppressors. Jesus came announcing deliverance, but it was not a national deliverance but God’s promise of liberation for all the poor and oppressed regardless of nationality, gender, or race. When the radical inclusiveness of Jesus’ announcement became clear to those gathered in the synagogue in Nazareth, their commitment to their own community boundaries took precedence over their joy that God had sent a prophet among them. In the end, because they were not open to the prospect of others’ sharing in the bounty of God’s deliverance, they themselves were unable to receive it.

Not only is this scene paradigmatic of Jesus’ life and ministry, but it is also a reminder that God’s grace is never subject to the limitations and boundaries of any nation, church, group, or race. Those who would exclude others thereby exclude themselves. Human beings may be instruments of God’s grace for others, but we are never free to set limits on who may receive that grace. Throughout history, the gospel has always been more radically inclusive than any group, denomination, or church, so we continually struggle for a breadth of love and acceptance that more nearly approximates the breadth of God’s love. The paradox of the gospel, therefore, is that the unlimited grace that it offers so scandalizes us that we are unable to receive it. Jesus could not do more for his hometown because they were not open to him. How much more might God be able to do with us if we were ready to transcend the boundaries of community and limits of love that we ourselves have erected?

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