By TERRY CAGLE
Back in the fall of 1995, I attended my 20th high school reunion for the Abilene High class of ’75. Since many of us were in town, the church we attended decided to have a “youth group reunion” on the Sunday of the reunion weekend. Since I was the only “pastor” of the group, I was asked to preach and my only instruction was: “nothing too jazzy.”
It was a really fun weekend of memories, and as our youth group gathered, we had a hilarious time as we looked back on our years as “the young and the restless.” I managed to stay away from jazzy in the sermon and remained in good standing with the church folks.
My experience was not like Jesus’ return to his hometown of Nazareth that Luke mentions:
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” [Luke 4:16-21]
If you know the rest of this story, you know that immediately after he read from the scroll of Isaiah, those who heard were proud of the homegrown rabbi. But then…
Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”
“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.
In his Cotton Patch Version of Luke, Clarence Jordan translates the last couple of verses, “When they heard that, the whole congregation blew a gasket.” Why? Because Jesus gave them the credentials of Isaiah and claimed them as his own! He was the Messiah that Isaiah spoke of! And he said the times are changing. As the Messiah, he was not bound by tradition that limited the coming Kingdom to only the chosen people. It is not just for the Jewish people but the Gentiles as well [That’s me!]. And all the people of the Kingdom should live as people who are good news to the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed!
These are still the authentic credentials of God’s people. God’s spirit is at work when personal and social concern is demonstrated. When we are God’s people our mission is to care about the physical, social and spiritual needs of our world. Our mission is to do what Jesus did! We are to stand with the demonized so the demonizing will stop. We stand with the disposable so the day will come when people are no longer thrown away.
We stand with those whose dignity has been denied, and with those whose burdens are more than they can bear. We stand with the poor, the powerless, and the voiceless; and make our voices heard as we say that God loves all people, all the time! God is present in the present tense, so may we all learn to care now. As Jesus said, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Terry Cagle is executive director of Connecting Caring Communities