What They Didn’t Want to Hear (Sunday Feb 3, 2019)
Luke 4: 21-30
What They Didn’t Want to Hear
Last week we talked about Jesus’ sermon at Nazareth, looking at what he actually preached; and how God was preparing him for that message, and also for his ministry going forward. And here we see that Jesus is kind of finishing his message. Last week he got up he read from the scroll of Isaiah about being good news to the poor and the outcast and the ones overlooked by society, and he said that the message has been fulfilled in their hearing. And then he continues on in this passage and he says some things in his exposition on this passage that get him in trouble and that cause the people of Nazareth to attempt to do violence to him. So today I want to take a look and see what he actually says here, and see if we can understand the powerful message he had, and also perhaps understand why they rejected it so that we can defend ourselves against the same reaction. One of the first things he says is that they will quote to him the proverb “doctor, cure yourself;” or in other words “do here what you’ve done elsewhere.” In this Jesus is recognizing a bit of human nature. We want to see for ourselves what we’ve heard about. We want to experience for ourselves the next big thing. This is why movies and books and TV shows take on a life of their own and become extremely popular. “This new thing, you’ve got to go see it.” It’s human nature. Jesus recognizes this, and Jesus recognizes the people of Nazareth are going to feel the same way about him. He’s done some miracles over in Capernaum, maybe in Cana, who knows exactly what Jesus is talking about it’s not recorded here, but he’s done a few things and he’s developed a reputation. And he knows the people of Nazareth, people of his hometown, are going to want to see what their star child has been doing for themselves. On a side note this exact bit of human nature is why the single most important thing you can do is invite other people to church, or to church event, or to something related to church. Because the vast majority of people, like 75 or 80% of people, who come to a new church do so because their friend or acquaintance invited them to come with them. They say, “I have this awesome new experience I want you to experience,” and they want to experience what their friends had experienced. It’s not really great advertising on the part of the church and all that; it’s because someone invited you, and someone welcomed you. Just a side note there. But one important thing we’re going to ask for today is: why did the people of Nazareth come to Jesus? What was their motivation to ask Jesus to do what are he had done in Capernaum? One thing to notice is that the people of Nazareth and do not believe that Jesus is Divine; they don’t think he really can do it, because they’re asking “Isn’t this Joseph’s son? Isn’t this the carpenter we’ve known and worked with for so many years? How could he do this?” So they’re not coming out from a participant’s perspective; they want to witness. They’re not followers, or disciples, or even fans of Jesus; they’re skeptics, they’re Pharisees in the grand scheme of things. They wanted to see how Joseph’s son can do this. And Jesus insinuates that this lack of true belief that God can is exactly why they cannot see what has happened at Capernaum. And he goes on to list to similar metaphors, talking about Israel in the ancient times, that don’t go over so well. These two metaphors involve prophet of old: Elijah and Elisha. These were two profits that led a group of prophets in ancient Israel back to back during the time between King Solomon and the Assyrian attack on the northern kingdom. Jesus talks about two stories here. The first is in 1 Kings 17. This one involves Elijah. Elijah predicts a drought in 1 Kings. He says that no rain will fall until he says it will, and then he goes away. And for three years it’s like this; for three years no rain falls because Elijah has said so, the prophet has said “there’s going to be a famine.”
During the famine Elijah is sent to a widow in a neighboring country, the country of Sidon. Sidon has also been affected by the famine. And God sends Elijah to there and says that there’s a widow there who will feed Elijah during the famine. And so Elijah gets up and goes the widow’s house. The problem is that the widow doesn’t have enough food to feed Elijah; doesn’t even have enough food even to feed herself and her son. She had one meal left that she was going to give to her son and herself, and then they were going to starve to death. And now this stranger, this foreigner, shows up at her house and says, “God has sent me to you, and God says you will feed me.” And here’s an extremely important part for today: the widow feeds him. She takes that last meal and, out of compassion, or out of fear of God, or out of whatever reason, she takes that last meal and hands it to the stranger she’s never met before, because he showed up at her door and said “God said so.” God rewards her by making sure that jar she grabbed that meal from always had another meal. And for the rest of the famine, she, and her son, and Elijah are fed. Later, her son gets ill and dies, and Elijah brings the son back to life. Elijah does some miracles for this widow, who is not a part of the nation of Israel.
Then Jesus points that out in the story that there were several of the of God‘s chosen people, Israel, who also are widows; who also were struggling during the famine, many of whom died. Yet, Elijah was never sent to them, but was sent to this person outside of Israel. And furthermore, when you combine it with everything that preceded it, Jesus is somewhat insinuating that Elijah couldn’t perform a miracle in his hometown; that God couldn’t send Elijah to the people of Israel for some reason, but could send him to the other nation of Sidon.
Jesus doesn’t say why. But I’ve kind of thought it had something to do with the fact of the widow was still willing to give up her last meal for the stranger. That she had a level of faith, or that she had a level of compassion, that maybe would’ve been missing in Israel. And this week I also thought about the idea that there was something about the hometown. Nazareth was asking if Jesus was Joseph’s son, and perhaps the king had done a PR campaign against Elijah and the people of Israel would’ve been blaming Elijah for the famine and say, “why would I need to feed you? Just speak a word and bring back the rain, oh Mr. Prophet. Or can you not do that?” And you can see how they wouldn’t have been in the same situation to see the same miracle. Jesus continues on. Next we see Elisha. He’s the guy who follows Elijah in the prophet role, and his story that Jesus cites is in 2 Kings 5. And here we see the story of a commander of the army of the largest enemy of Israel whose name is Naaman. And he has leprosy. And someone says he should go to the prophet that’s in Israel and get cured of your leprosy, that he can do that. And so Naaman gets up, and he heads off to Israel, and he meets the prophet, who says, “just go bathe in the river.” And after some convincing, Naaman goes and bathes in the river, and he is healed. And again, Jesus points out that there were lepers in Israel, members of God‘s chosen people, who suffered from the same affliction. None of them were sent by the prophet to go and bathe the Jordan River, but here the enemy of Israel was. But again, the insinuation was that there was something about the people of Israel that was problematic. I wonder if Jesus is saying, “hey, if any of them came to the prophet and asked for healing they would’ve been told the same thing, but none of them came.” Because a prophet being there was too mundane. There was no excitement to draw the members of the hometown. Whatever it is, Jesus is making the insinuation that there was something about them that prevented Israel from experiencing these miracles. And he further extends that to the people of Nazareth, saying that they will not see miracles from him for the same reason: that there is something about them. And, at least for Nazareth, Jesus seems to be clear in saying that it is because they do not believe. It is because they are skeptical, it’s because they don’t meet him like the people of Capernaum. The people of Capernaum meet him by asking “is this the Messiah?” while the people of Nazareth meeting by asking “isn’t this Joseph’s son?” What would we ask? If Jesus walked into our doors, would we have given the last meal to someone who shows up and said, “God said you would feed me?” Would we have even noticed Elijah? Later tonight is the Super Bowl. A lot of you are going to go to a party. You’re going to eat some chips and dip, and some wings, and whatever else. You’re going to have this wonderful time watching the Super Bowl. The United Methodist women remind us every year the Super Bowl is a single largest event in the world for human trafficking. And they remind us every year to be on the lookout for this real and big problem. And actually, because Kansas City is at the intersection of two of the largest interstate thoroughfares in this country, the north-south 35 and the east-west 70, Kansas City is a gigantic hub for human trafficking. It’s happening right outside your door. Do you notice it? Are you looking? The poor exist all around us. Every church I’ve been in, every church I’ve heard of, every pastor I’ve talked to has had people call them, that includes this one. They need help for the utilities, they need help for gas, they need help just to live. Do you see them? In Matthew we read that we encounter Jesus every time we encounter someone like this, when we encounter of the least in the world, the lowest in the world, we are encountering Jesus. So when we encounter Jesus in these people, are we asking “is this the Messiah?” Or we asking “isn’t this Joe that got fired last week?” Or “why didn’t she build up a larger savings? Why didn’t she prepare better?”
Or do we maybe just try and stop hearing about this unfortunate, inconvenient reality all around us at all? So we try and throw the messenger off the cliff, in modern ways. We unfriend that one person on social media that keeps sharing about all the harsh realities going on. Or we make sure that we only listen to the news channel that’s telling us what we want to hear; and never turn on that other one. Everything on that other channel is fake automatically just simply by being on that channel. Just as it is human nature to want in on a big new thing, it is also human nature to want to eliminate the stressors in our life instead of engaging with them. We have to fight that. Now perhaps you might be understanding now why the people of Nazareth don’t like this message, and why they want to throw Jesus off a cliff. Over time I think that the message itself has lost its offensiveness to us because we’ve heard it so many times and we don’t understand what Jesus is actually saying. This message was offensive. The ones who first heard Jesus give this message were so offended that they wanted to throw him off a cliff. The Gospel sometimes is hard to hear. But there is one final warning in this passage. The rest of the Bible insinuates something about what’s happens to the people in the end. The people of Capernaum have a good final destination. Most of the disciples, most of the apostles, most of the early church that was sitting in the upper room at Pentecost; they were Galileans. They were the people Capernaum. They were people around here that saw Jesus work his miracles. The Bible insinuated those people are saved.
And while Jesus doesn’t call down the fires of Sodom and Gomorrah onto Nazareth here, there’s an insinuation that rejecting Jesus isn’t good for your eternal fate. And what the people of Nazareth here are doing is rejecting Jesus. That is one final warning. As you try and find yourself in the story; as we try and figure out what’s going on around us, and how the story looks to us; we need to figure out where we are, and be honest with ourselves, but we also need to figure out where we want to be. Do you want to be in Capernaum, or do you want to be in Nazareth at the end of the day? Because we all still have some time at least to get there. But we need to make that first step. If we’re not in Capernaum right now, we need to get on the road. We need to be meeting everyone thinking they might be Jesus in disguise, ready to hand over our last meal. And may God give us the strength. Amen.