Jesus Stirring up Trouble

Monday, April 15, 2013 — Week of 3 Easter

Damien and Marianne of Molokai, Priest and Leper, 1889; Religious, 1918

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 960)

Psalm 25 (morning) // 9, 15 (evening)

Daniel 4:19-27

1 John 3:19 – 4:6

Luke 4:14-30

Jesus’ visit to the synagogue in his hometown is revealing in many ways. It helps us see how he provoked so much controversy.

To introduce his message and ministry he draws from Isaiah 61 (and maybe 58). The first words from establish authority — the anointing of the Spirit. Anointing is a sign of recognition of a ruler. Jesus announces the program which he calls elsewhere the Kingdom of God — good news to the poor, release to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, liberation for the oppressed. All of these are activities consistent with the prophecies of Isaiah and the other prophets who cry out for justice, particularly toward the poor and weak.

Then Jesus proclaims “the year of the Lord’s favor,” the time of Jubilee and restoration commanded by Leviticus 25. According to the Jubilee law, every seven years the land is to rest, and there is to be no planting. Every fiftieth year is the Jubilee year, when all land ownership reverts to the original allocation assigned equally to each Israelite tribe and family. All debts are to be canceled, and anyone who has been sold as a hired laborer shall be liberated. It is a radical view of the land and the economy. “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine,” declares God in Leviticus 25. At the time of Jesus, most of the land and its economy was in the hands of a small group of elites. Jesus’ words would be considered revolutionary by those landowners. Within a poor village of peasants as in Nazareth, such words would sound like freedom and the lifting of economic oppression. “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.”

But then Jesus fails to live up to the hometown expectations. He does no healing or amazing works. Instead, he tells two stories from the days of Elijah and Elisha when those prophets ministered to foreigners while ignoring similar needs of Israelites. Some scholars believe these words would have been particularly offensive in Nazareth because they believe that it was a village of ultra-orthodox Jewish observance, a Davidic clan of separatists looking for a Messiah to liberate them and punish the Gentiles. Jesus’ words of favor towards foreigners was a simultaneous insult towards the insiders. Acting upon the tradition that calls for death for false prophets when their word does not prove true, the city threatens to kill Jesus.

What if the church today were to adopt Jesus’ agenda? We wouldn’t be too popular either. Everyone believes it is good to help the poor until you get real concrete about it. How about raising minimum wages? Would make us non-competitive; it’s inflationary. How about universal insurance? Too costly. What about guaranteed minimum income and housing? Rewarding people for not producing — that’s socialism. Canceling debts? Robs from the lenders. Release to the captives? They deserve their punishment. Reversion of land ownership to its original equal apportionment? Ridiculous! — would ruin development and be a business nightmare. No permanent ownership of property? Take care of foreigners first? You’ve got to be kidding.

It’s a lot easier to keep religion personal. Let Jesus heal those who need it and be our personal savior from hell or whatever. Let him give us forgiveness and love. That’s what we go to church for. Who does he think he is getting into economics, sociology and politics? Keep that stuff out of the synagogue and church, we Nazarenes say.

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