Third Monday of Lent
The good men attending prayer in Jesus’ hometown synagogue were so upset by Jesus’ words, they decided to drive him out of town and throw him off a cliff. What would cause such rage?
After he is handed the book of the prophet Isaiah, Jesus picks the following to read to the congregation: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” He then comments, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” At this point, the men in the synagogue were amazed at Jesus’ presence and his gracious words. Though the majority of them did not fit the description of the people described by Jesus, they probably realized that the poor and blind and captives and oppressed in their community might also, along with them, receive salvation from God.
Then things get tense. Jesus offers more commentary. First, he notes prophets are not accepted in their own towns, even though these men seem to be accepting him. Then he pushes, highlighting salvation of foreigners and unbelievers. He recalls the miracles of the prophet Elijah for the Phoenician widow (1 Kings 17:8-24) – although there were Jewish widows in need says Jesus, and for a Syrian army general who suffered from leprosy (2 Kings 5, first reading for today) – although there were Jews with leprosy says Jesus. Luke writes, “When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.”
Their rage perversely mirrors God’s love. Their rage is spontaneous, immediate, and unconditional. It expresses who they are. But conversely, their rage is incompatible with God. They think God’s love is exclusive. God only loves certain special people. Jesus announces a different theology. God’s love is expansive and universal, passionate and personal.
Lenten repentance is a coin with two sides: 1. Recognizing our limits and faults (and taking time away from recognizing the faults and limits of others) and, 2. Falling into the God who loves me deeply and loves my neighbors the same way -- even if those neighbors are Phoenicians and Syrians, or poor or oppressed or prisoners. Living with this truth helps you, like Jesus, to walk faithfully through the crowd as you go on your way.
Professor and Chair, Theology