Epiphany 4C, 2007
A Liturgy is also available
PROPHETS, WHO FALL IN LOVE WITH THE WORLD, CAN NEVER GO HOME
Again, choose your words carefully if you preach to the people back home!
Towards the end of his second year of ministry,
according to our storyteller Luke, Jesus found this out
when he decided to go home to Nazareth for a while.
Luke is a great storyteller.
And this liturgical year we will hear plenty of those stories.
So while this may be a ‘plus’, we also need to acknowledge
it can also be a ‘minus’.
Because the storyteller’s role is not to preserve historical reality, or facts.
A storyteller has a different role.
And we meet this in the story today.
So let me briefly explore some of the territory around this Lukan story.
And then invite you to ponder with me, a couple of important questions:
• what was happening in Luke’s community for this story to be told?
• what is happening in our own stories - family, church, nation -
for us to hear and connect with this story?
I am assured by biblical scholars there is no reason to doubt that Jesus
visited Nazareth from time to time during his public ministry (GJenks. FFF, 2007).
It also seems clear that Jesus made Capernaum,
a fishing village on the edge of the Sea of Galilee,
his “operational base” (GJenks. FFF web site, 2007).
On the other hand, Luke's knowledge of the area,
having never been there himself, was sketchy at best.
He says Nazareth was built on a hill. Well, if it was, it has been moved!
Actually it's on the slope of a hill.
“It was a tiny village clinging to the edge of its one small spring. There was no cliff over which the villagers might throw Jesus. Of course, having never visited the place, Luke was not to know that; just as most of his readers ever since have been unaware of the actual geography of Nazareth” (G Jenks. FFF web site, 2007).
We may conclude, then, this story is the product of Luke's imagination
“rather than a memory of some actual event passed on to him by others...” (G Jenks. FFF web site, 2007).
So let’s remember: Luke is writing theology
rather than geography or history.
Now on with the story.
Luke’s Jesus decides to return home.
When he did, his people, many of them cousins and near relatives
- those whom you would normally expect to be welcoming and accepting -
listened, and indeed liked what they initially heard.
A local boy made good. This could be good for the local tourist trade!
But when they read between the lines and listened some more,
especially when pushed a bit, they decide
they can’t accept what he has to say.
So they react.
This ordinary bloke, one of us, has great potential.
But he comes making unrealistic demands,
disturbing our fragile village comfortableness.
And anyway, his views do not match our ideas of ‘God’ or ‘religion’.
So who does he think he is!
Or more important: who the hell does he think we are!
Mmm. Better the domesticated Jesus at their personal disposal
than the challenging Jesus let loose, perhaps even out of control!
Sounds very modern. Yet very old.
I remember a comment made nearly 10 years ago by one of my colleagues.
Pauline Hanson was on the Australian political scene at the time.
Quoting a political analyst, he suggested the rise of ‘One Nation’
(as a conservative political party) had a lot to do with
the global movement of a ‘politics of anger’.
“People are feeling so powerless against forces that seemingly cannot be controlled. Confused by the culture of change, no longer able to recognise the world they once knew, people are turning in anger against their politicians, against their leaders” (KSuter, quoted by R Wiig 1998).
So were the actions of those in Luke’s story shaped by a ‘politics of anger’?
Perhaps. Or the more important question:
what was happening in Luke’s community for him to
decided this imaginative story was important for them to hear?
How were they acting when faced with new or different ways
of thinking and believing and shaping community?
Again to be honest, we can only speculate.
Luke is a storyteller not an historian, and he doesn’t help us much.
But I reckon it could have been something like...
The people of Luke’s community,
just like the so-called people of Jesus’ hometown,
were puzzled and disturbed and anxious by the demands
of the new and challenging vision of God’s domain.
It was populated with outsiders,
It contradicted their normal notion of who belonged and who did not,
of who was in and who was out!
It discerned the holy or the sacred in the everyday!
But Luke’s Jesus continues to nudge and persuade:
God’s love is inclusive and embracing and universal, not exclusive.
And no one, not even the so-called ‘God’s people’
should ever think of themselves as privileged.
But were they ready to hear this.
Or were their reactions going to be shaped by a “politics of anger”?
Likewise, an important question in the even broader expression of this story:
how are we to be church and express being an
inclusive community, today?
Or indeed: how are we to be an inclusive,
multicultural Australian community?
And there are many puzzled and agitated people
expressing their viewpoints, and sometimes anger,
on that broader issue right now!
So how can our expression of community - church or family - help in this debate?
Luke’s story suggests a universalism underpinning life.
Which could be summed up as:
God is as likely to bless an Imam as an Archbishop.
But it’s a universalism which comes at a cost. Then and now.
Right now there are those, mainly politicians, who talk
dismissively of multiculturalism, calling it ‘mushy’.
But who pound their nationalistic fists like
silly cocks crowing on their own dunghill.
But not all are politicians.
The respected Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of Britain and the Commonwealth,
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in his recent book The Home we Build Together, writes:
"Multiculturalism has run its course, and it is time to move on. It was a fine, even noble idea in its time. It was designed to make ethnic and religious minorities feel more at home in society, more appreciated and respected, better equipped with self-esteem and therefore better able to mesh with the larger society as a whole. It affirmed their culture. It gave dignity to difference... But there has been a price to pay... Multiculturalism has led not to integration but to segregation" (Sacks 2007:3).
Yet such Lukan universalism or “extravagant welcome - to all persons”
whether in the church or in our wider community
really is the only way to experience abundant life
and be all that we can be “in our pluralistic and polarized age” (BEpperly. P&F web site, 2007).
Indeed, such a universalism could be called, falling in love with the world!
So I reckon this is Luke’s challenge and blessing, to and for us.
If we can hear it amid all the other seductive
calls and demands in our own Aussie backyard,
at this time and in our day.
Sacks, J. The Home we Build Together. Recreating Cociety. London: Continuum, 2007.