Recently Pope Francis left Lesbos bringing 14 Muslim refugees with him to live at the Vatican. One of my favorite bloggers, Steve Ray, took exception to that since there were plenty of Christian refugees there too. I would respectfully argue that Pope Francis did the right thing. He acted in charity to his enemies like the Gospel tells us. That action was a message and it should challenge us, like the style of Jesus to see that the coming of the kingdom of God is above our own presuppositions or agendas.
As a social worker, I have heard a lot about how the privileged of society should be aware of their blind spots. Pop culture has a saying of, “Check your privilege!”. There are have’s and have not’s based on any of many labels with a semi-caste system in society. For those that have such power or are resentful they do not have enough, there can be contention either way. The nature of sin in an individual or a group predisposes the human condition to be committed to a fight and basing it by the flesh. In a zero-sum game of class warfare the assumption is that labels and their norms are the way they are and nothing natural can go agains that.
Insert me as the public relations person for Jesus in his inaugural speech in his ministry in his hometown of Nazareth. With my bar graphs that happened with my fancy computer, I say that now is a good time to go if half of them are “amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth”. Jesus has sown some seeds but there are some signs that this is a tough crowd. Jesus stays on though he knew the hearts of all men. He sits down which is a rabbinical posture. If they thought he laid down the gauntlet before, guess again. It gets much worse or much better depending what kind of heart that you had in Nazareth that day. Or Anytown, USA. Make no mistake, the gospel in its fulness is real and it is meant to be offensive.
He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb, ‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’” And he said, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away (Luke 4:23-29).
This is getting personal. Jesus is speaking to a small, marginalized town under a marginalized nation under oppressive rule from an oppressive empire. They had a bias to stay together, ruminate in the injustices they had suffered by the Gentiles and keep the status quo. Jesus had just signaled to them the help was on the way from God and that included from oppression. Surely revenge would soon be theirs.
It was to none of these…only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. …yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.— This is loaded with grace, but for their enemies? Jesus loves everyone. He had shared good news with them a few moments ago. Now he dared say that there was mission for them too?
When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury — The reviews went in minutes from 50/50 to 100/0. The 50% that liked Jesus before liked his words, gracious words, as long as they were about their group. But Jesus loved his hometown too much not to throw a stumbling block their way. I remember that the definition of a bad sermon according to Abraham Lincoln is one that did not challenge one to action. Jesus challenged them to love all of their neighbors and they snapped. One can hope that when the more explicit nature of the gospel would be explained years later they would snap back.