Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, October 22, 2019
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Good News for All (Feb 3 2019)

Luke 4:21-30

We are picking up today exactly where we left off last Sunday. This is Jesus’ first public proclamation in the Gospel of Luke. It is like a “thesis statement,” a summary of the message of the whole Gospel.

Jesus is preaching in the synagogue of Nazareth, his hometown, and he quotes from Isaiah 61: “He has appointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, release from captivity and oppression, the recovery of sight to the blind, and the time of the Lord’s favor.”

Now, honestly, who wouldn’t be happy to hear that? Well, obviously the rich and the oppressors wouldn’t be happy. But I’m sure no one in Nazareth counted themselves in those groups. These were simple, small town folk, after all.

And it seems everyone was enthusiastic to hear this message. Perhaps they’re a little surprised to hear it from Jesus. After all, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”

Is it? If you read Luke’s Gospel up to this point, you can’t miss that the answer to the question is, “No, Jesus is not just the son of Joseph.” In Luke chapter one, the angel comes to Mary and tells her, “He will be the Son of the Most High.” Luke chapter two, when Jesus’ parents find him in the Temple at 12 years old, Mary says, “Your father and I have been looking for you.” And Jesus responds, “I must be in my Father’s house.” In chapter three, when Jesus is baptized, God speaks from heaven, “You are my beloved Son.” When Luke traces Jesus’ genealogy, unlike Matthew who goes back to Abraham, Luke goes all the way back to Adam, “the son of God.” So, no, this is not Joseph’s son, or at least not just the son of Joseph.

Well, the people are happy to hear Jesus’ words at first, but it doesn’t last long. Because Jesus brings a message they don’t want to hear.

“You will quote the proverb, ‘Physician heal yourself,’ meaning do miracles here like you did in Capernaum. But no prophet is accepted in his own hometown.” You know the definition of an expert right? An expert is someone who carries a briefcase and comes from at least 50 miles away.

Actually, Israel didn’t have a great history with accepting prophets period. Jeremiah is often remembered as the best example of a prophet not being accepted. But look up the story of Micaiah in 1 Kings 22. It’s interesting as well.

Jesus’ unpopular message is that God is not just for us. The good news is not just for one people, but for all people.

Jesus illustrates this with two stories from the Old Testament about Elijah and Elisha. They were the two most famous prophets of the Old Testament, and two of their most famous miracles involved foreigners, Gentiles. Elijah miraculously provided food for the widow of Zarephath and her son. Later he raised her son from the dead. Zarephath was a village in the region of Sidon, part of Phoenicia. Later, Elisha healed Naaman of leprosy. Naaman was from Damascus, the capital of Aram, what is today Syria. Both those nations were frequent enemies of Israel, Aram especially at the time. Both of those miracles also happened at a time when Israel, the northern kingdom, was not being faithful to God. And, of course, Galilee was part of Israel. Hint, hint.

They weren’t happy. I think they wanted to hear that God’s favor was for them, and them only. They certainly didn’t want to hear that God’s favor was for their enemies. In the second century BC, Damascus in Syria was the capital of Seleucid Empire, which ruled over Galilee. One of the kings of the Seleucids, Antiochus Epiphanes, was especially remembered for his cruelty and his persecution of the Jewish people. And here is Jesus talking about God’s favor being for Syrians, too. Ouch.

One rabbi of Jesus’ day, when he was asked why God made so many Gentiles if he hated them so much, answered, “God made them to be fuel for the fires of hell.” And here is Jesus saying that they will also receive God’s favor. Jesus brings good news for all the poor, all the oppressed, all the blind, and the time of God’s favor available to all people. It was a message they didn’t want to hear.

It would be easy for us to cast the first stone and say, “Oh, weren’t they just awful, those first century Jews, wanting to keep God all for themselves.” But we had better beware. We can fall into the exact same line of thinking; that God is for people who look like me, talk like me, think like me.

There are plenty of people out there right now expressing negative views of “other people,” whether they be people of other races, other nations, other social classes, other political parties. And sometimes, the people saying those things also claim to be followers of Christ! Those two ideas are not compatible! We must be on guard. We must be careful that our way of thinking about other people is in line with God’s way of thinking about all people.

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