|“You Shall Know the Truth & the Truth Just Might Make You Feel Uncomfortable” Luke 4:21-30 Sarah Foulger 2/3/13 Congr. Church BBH
In the first year or so of his ministry, Jesus goes home to Nazareth, where he grew up. On the Sabbath, he goes to the synagogue, the temple, for worship. There, he is invited to read Holy Scripture. He opens the ancient Hebrew scroll to the giant vision of Isaiah, and reads it to all of his neighbors who have gathered eagerly in the synagogue knowing he would be there. This is what he reads from Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Then he rolls up the revered scroll, hands it back, and sits down. Everyone’s eyes are fixed on him expectantly. There is a “What’s next?” in the air. Jesus responds to their eager gazes by adding, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
The people are amazed by what he has said. They are floored by the grace they hear in him. Suddenly, a question arises, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” And it’s hard to know what the question means. Does the question arise out of the crowd’s astonishment? Does the question mean, “Isn’t this wonderful? One of our own sons, one of the children of Nazareth, is extraordinary!” Or is the question intended to bring the crowd back down to earth? Is it akin to saying, “C’mon folks, don’t get too excited – Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”
I think it is the former. I think it is the crowd’s way of trying to cozy up to Jesus and perhaps get more out of him. They have heard reports of their hometown boy turned local phenom, a preacher and healer who is filled with the power of the spirit of God. And they want a demonstration!
Jesus, however, pretty much tells them: It ain’t happenin’. And before they can pull the right words together, Jesus puts his own words in their mouths:
You probably want to see a healing, don’t you? You probably want me to do the things you’ve heard I did over in Capernaum, don’t you? But, guess what, I’m not your personal prophet. You are not my calling. This isn’t some dog and pony show. This is bigger than you.
As if this isn’t enough of a slap in the face, he goes on, “Remember Elijah? God did not call him to care for his own people either. There were plenty of hungry widows and poor lepers in Israel but Elijah took care of a Lebanese1 widow and a Syrian leper. The lowest of the low and the poorest of the poor among the enemies of Israel were his calling.
Hello? What? Really? Did he just say what we think he said? Foreigners are more important to him than we are?
The people of Nazareth flipped out. “All in the synagogue,” we read, “were enraged.” They are so angry, they decide to throw Jesus off a cliff! But somehow, he passes right through the middle of the angry crowd and goes back to Capernaum where he continues to heals the sick and tend to the poor.
This is a very important story. Rarely is the same story found in all four Gospels as this one is. And it is also found in the beautiful Gospel of Thomas. This is a story that transcends time and place because it is about the truth, God’s truth and human truth - our truth.
Jesus challenges the “truth” of his hometown peeps, specifically the assumption that God has an exclusive contract with their team. He pulls that rug right out from under them. In thinking about this story, one pastor wrote:
“What strikes me is not that they were mad at Jesus… but just how passionately angry we can get when our point of view is challenged...”2
The great preacher, William Sloane Coffin said, "You shall know the truth
and the truth shall make you uncomfortable." You shall know the truth and it will shake your beliefs so fiercely, it shall make you furious. We human beings don’t like thinking we might be wrong. And history demonstrates that we’re often more likely to throw someone over a cliff than to set aside our own entrenched ways of thinking long enough to broaden our understanding. In the short run, we find it much more satisfying to spit out rage than to chew on truth.
Lance Armstrong. I can’t say for sure what is going on in the head and heart of Lance Armstrong. But in the stories we’ve heard, any time anyone has dared to tell the truth about him, he has become vindictively hostile. He has used every weapon at his disposal to keep the truth from being told.
Whatever his motives are for facing the truth now, whether they have to do with his children (as he says) or are attached to legal timing or other facets of his story, he has now done it. Having faced the truth about himself and having told the truth about himself, he may now, at last, find the freedom of which Jesus speaks when he says, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”
I hope so. I hope it sets him free to seek forgiveness and to pursue a different kind of excellence, and to run a better kind of race. And I hope his children truly are the impulse for his honesty because the truth is always bigger than we are. It’s about all the people around us, all the people we love and all the people we’ve hurt and it’s about people we don’t even know.
The truth that made Jesus’ neighbors so mad was that God’s priorities were bigger than theirs and were bigger than them. People who were accustomed to thinking of themselves as chosen were told that sick Syrians and needy Lebanese widows were higher on the divine priority list than they were. And they were reminded that God’s family is bigger than they wanted to imagine.
You shall know the truth and the truth just might make you uncomfortable.
And so, as we gather around Christ’s table, let us remember that this is not just our table, and it’s never just about us. There are Lebanese widows and Syrian lepers we can’t even see who have been given choice seats at this table.
As we gather around this table, let us try to be as truthful with God and one another as is humanly possible. And as we gather around this table, let us set aside our own often small agendas that we may truly focus on God’s expansive agenda, which is still about bringing good news to the poor and proclaiming release to the captives and bringing sight to the blind, and liberating the oppressed, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor.
Let us pray:
God of the prophets, who sent Jesus Christ to teach and to heal, show us again your priorities and help us to be a part of them. Amen.