“Be True to You” Colchester Federated Church, January 30, 2022,(Luke 4:21-30) Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

To set up our Gospel story, we have to remember our text from last Sunday.  Jesus is in his hometown of Nazareth and goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath.  Jesus reads from the Prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me.  He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Jesus rolls up the scroll and sits down, relating, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.”  Everyone is amazed: “This is Joseph’s son, isn’t it?”[1]  The crowds are raving about Jesus, impressed by these gracious words flowing from his lips.  Though Jesus begins to challenge them.

The story shifts when Jesus says, “I assure you that no prophet is welcome in the prophet’s hometown.”[2]  Jesus speaks of the prophets Elijah and Elisha healing Gentiles after being rejected by their own people.  He says, “There were also many persons with skin diseases in Israel during the time of the prophet Elisha, but none of them were cleansed.  Instead, Naaman the Syrian was cleansed.”[3]  The crowd wants Jesus to work miracles in their midst like he had already done in Capernaum.  Jesus refuses.  So those who were just raving about how wonderful he is attempt to throw Jesus off a cliff.  The story ends with Jesus passing through the angry mob and going back to Capernaum to heal and teach and continue on with his ministry.

What a strange story—Jesus refuses to heal people in his hometown at the beginning of his ministry and points out that when prophets get rejected; they often reach out to Gentiles.  The anger from the congregation is sparked because Jesus is saying that as a prophet he will bring God’s good news to others, but not healing actions to his own hometown.  Now Luke may just be foreshadowing Jesus’ later rejections and the opening of the Jesus Movement to Gentiles.  Luke is an inclusive Gospel and all about Jesus being the Savior of the whole world.  For instance, women have a more prominent role in Luke than the other Synoptic Gospels.  And as New Testament scholar Mark Allan Powell states, there’s an emphasis in Luke on “Jesus’ ministry to those who are oppressed, excluded, or otherwise at a disadvantage in society.”[4]  But it’s curious that these folks in Nazareth clearly want Jesus’ help, and he doesn’t respond positively to their requests.

So what do we do with this?  For Jesus’ words are piercing, that no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.  Because this is often true.  When we live in a community, especially a small community, and we start knowing people well, when people let us into their lives and we learn more about who they really are (and not just the person they project to the outside world)—how they really think and feel, what they’ve been through—do we sometimes get resentful if they say something we don’t like?  Maybe someone offers advice, and we think to ourselves, why are you giving me advice?  Your life is a mess!  Small town gossip can be dangerous.  As the saying goes, familiarity can breed contempt.  It’s a rather harsh side of humanity. 

This Gospel story was written almost 2,000 years ago.  But people are still people no matter when people live or where people live.  Jesus grew up in a very small town.  It’s estimated that Nazareth was a town of 400-2,000 residents and most folks were agricultural laborers, tenant farmers, and manual laborers of modest economic resources.  From archaeology we have learned that there’s no evidence of public buildings, paved streets, or imported luxury goods like ceramics, mosaics, or glassware in ancient Nazareth.  Skeletal remains point to dietary deficiencies.  Though it seems that the people of Nazareth were on the same economic level.  Jesus was probably part of the laboring class with his family.  But poverty is relative and we don’t know how poor Jesus and his family were.  However, we can keep in mind that Nazareth was a humble small hill town, never even mentioned in the Old Testament.[5]  It seems that everybody knew everybody, including everybody’s business.  In this story, Jesus goes from the local boy who made good to the villain who seems to be “too good” to work miracles for his neighbors.

This story can remind us that Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do what you feel in your heart to be right—for you’ll be criticized anyway.”  Jesus seems to have embodied these words.  Be true to you.  Because Lord knows, there will always be critics and haters.  We are living in times when anxiety is high and patience with one another is low.  Criticism can be on overdrive, and extending grace to one another almost feels like a lost cause. 

Calvinist theology has never appealed that much to me—the belief in total depravity for instance, that human nature is thoroughly corrupt and sinful as a result of the Fall of humanity in the Garden of Eden.  I believe that when God declared humanity good in Genesis, that God meant it.  People are good and we have the divine spark of God within us, but we do sometimes do bad things.  We hurt one another whether intentionally or unintentionally and can cause pain.  Though these days when we look around at the world, sometimes it seems that John Calvin and Calvinists may have a point about total depravity.  Because human beings can be awful to each other.  Jesus understood that sometimes people can be awful to each other too.  Since apparently, he said some things that made people so angry in Nazareth that they attempted to throw him off a cliff.  At least we are in good company when people rant and rave because they may not like when we are clear in our own beliefs and boundaries.

So yes, this Gospel story this morning is intense.  And it may be a perfect story to hear right now.  It’s hard to know exactly why Jesus decided to not heal those who were afflicted that day in Nazareth because it doesn’t align with how compassionate he was over and again with people who came to him in need of healing.  We can go back and forth and guess as to why that was.  Though this story shows that people don’t like hearing “no.”  Or may not appreciate the setting of a boundary.  Or not getting their way.  But we have to be true to ourselves and what we know in our hearts to be right.  Regardless of the consequences, regardless of how other people respond.  Remember that Jesus taught us to love God, love our neighbors, and love ourselves.  The love of self is sometimes minimized.  Being true to ourselves and doing what we feel in our hearts to be right is living into Jesus’ call to love ourselves.  So, be true to you.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Luke 4:16-22, CEB.
[2] Luke 4:24.
[3] Luke 4:27.
[4] Mark Allan Powell, Fortress Introduction to the Gospels, 93.
[5] Notes from Systematic Theology, Dr. Benjamin Valentine, Andover Newton Theological School, Spring Semester 2008.

Photo by Erika Löwe on Unsplash