November 26, 2020

Epiphany III: I wonder…

Angry Mob

Epiphany III
I wonder…

Luke 4:14-20 (NRSV)

14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18“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, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

I wonder what I should think?

  • I am preaching in local church congregation today.
  • The Gospel text for this Sunday is about Jesus preaching in a synagogue.
  • I was once pastor of the church in which I am preaching. The people and I will know each other.
  • The synagogue where Jesus preached was in Nazareth, his home town, where everyone knew him.
  • I will be welcomed, and when people leave, they will greet me at the door, smile, and shake my hand or give me hugs.
  • Jesus’ sermon provoked a ruckus that prematurely ended the service. “They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff” (Luke 14:29).

At first, when the people heard the part of the sermon recorded in today’s text, the people were pleased: “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” But it wasn’t long before all hell broke loose.


Because Jesus went on to make them face the implications of the gospel.

It’s okay to speak in general terms about reaching the “poor.” No problem to speak of ministering to the “captives,” healing the “blind,” or freeing the “oppressed.”

But when Jesus references passages from the Tanakh that show God passing by his own people — the good people — and paying attention to specific foreigners and outsiders and insinuating that Jesus, their hometown boy, will do the same, well, that starts to raise the hackles.

I wonder what it’s like to get thrown out of church by your friends and neighbors.

I wonder if uncovering the true implications of the gospel for our lives would make the good and faithful people upset.

I wonder if I’ve ever really proclaimed the good news of Jesus.


  1. Simple. Just insert “gays/welfare recipients/Muslims/immigrants/blacks” instead of “the poor” into the sermon, as regionally appropriate.

    Also, wear protective padding.

    • Eeyore, respectfully, that is the easy answer, the low hanging fruit. The gospel IS being preached today, in MANY places, in MANY ways. Even in CHURCHES, for heaven’s sake!

      What was Jesus proposing that was so different that was going on in His time? Are those same conditions present today? Or is there some other iteration of Isaiah’s call that we should be considering? And if so, then we have to ask” Who IS it that is “anointed” to preach that message, just ordained ministers, or does it include ALL of us?

      IF we are all “anointed” then how much time are we spending banging away at others who claim that anointing, and riding our own personal hobbyhorses as a way to divert ourselves from what we are not doing ourselves? If Jesus’ message makes us smile knowingly while we point fingers elsewhere then we’ve missed the meaning of that message as it whizzes past our conscious thoughts.

      We need to think more deeply and spend more time meditating on how it applies to US! And I am including myself!

      • And will all due respect to you, sir, in return…

        Was it not Martin Luther himself who said “If you preach the entire Gospel, except for that part which your flock most wants to ignore, you have not preached the Gospel”?

        What was Jesus proposing that was so different that was going on in His time?

        Loving our enemies, that’s what.

        Are those same conditions present today?

        Draw your own conclusions. 😉

        • Eeyore, I hope you can excuse my seemingly critical response. While preparing for my Sunday School class I tend to be more self-critical as a way to stir discussion in class. My comment was only tangentially directed at you, personally. I was intending to try to direct discussion away from the obvious.

          The comment about “loving your enemies” is only a fraction of what Jesus said and was not included iin the Isaiah passage. His ministry was much more than that.

          • Indeed it was. But the examples He used in expositing that Isaiah passage directly tied into the status of Israel vis a vis her pagan neighbors. And THAT was what set off the congregants.

  2. Pastor Mac says

    For those of us in Continuing Anglicanism using the 1928 BCP, today is Septuagesima, the start of Pre-Lent. Matt 20:1ff is the Gospel based on the revised 1940 lectionary. Workers hired in AM whining about getting paid the same as workers hired late in the day. I Cor 9:24ff is the Epistle. Paul exhorting to run and finish the race.

  3. At least Jesus didn’t insinuate that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. I thought that picture might have been taken yesterday at the Monastery. He also had the good sense to stop before he got to the part about the Day of Vengeance of our God, and of course by “our God” I don’t mean your God. Maybe we would all be better off if we all went back to 1928. No Great Depression, no Hitler, no Roosevelt, the Model T was actually a pretty good car and Calvin Coolidge was actually a pretty good president. Janis Joplin didn’t do very well when she went back to her home town either. Could be a lesson there.

    • petrushka1611 says


    • Again, let’s look to Paul. Paul, when spying an idol dedicated to (for all intents and purposes) “To Whom It May Concern” in Athens, had NO hesitation about using that as a wedge to preach the Gospel. And Allah is a heck of a lot closer to Jahweh than “To Whom It May Concern”.

      • Actually, Paul seemed to go out of his way to NOT attack the “To Whom It May Concern” idol. He briefly mentions it, then moves on to describe HIS God. Never is he shown going back to mentioning it over and over and over. He doesn’t seem to attack people’s cultures and beliefs as much as continually describe Jesus, God Incarnate.

        • What he actually said was, “What you worship in ignorance, I will now explain to you.” 😉

          • “What you worship in ignorance” is pretty incendiary language. Imagine speaking in such language to a group in Mecca on the Haji, or before the gathered faculty and students of Liberty University.

        • It was the shrine of the “unknown god” not Jupiter or Diana. I think it was an attempt to identify with the Ground of Being, not any particular existing religious symbol claiming to represent the Ground of Being.

          And that is the problem with claiming the “God” of Christianity is the same as Allah of Islam. For that matter, one sect of Christianity claims to possess the religious symbols which represent the Ground of Being better than another. A cult or authoritarian “Heteronomy” will insist it alone is the true representation. Symbols which do not point to the Ground of Being but to human powers, such as fascism or nationalism, are idols. That is the problem with many religions and religious authorities: what they represent – in the past or in the present, where those religious symbols have either lost their power or have been usurped or manipulated to control the masses – may have nothing to do with the Ground of Being. I believe this is why any argument claiming to link Islam, Judaism, and Christianity through Abraham is invalid; just because they are traceable back to “The God of Abraham” does not mean they represent “The God of Abraham” now.

          All religious symbols do not represent the Ground of Being. Many represent in part. The audacious claim of Christianity is that Jesus is the ultimate, final, and universal representation of the Ground of Being.

          Religious symbols must stand on their own; they can’t be co-mingled. One religious symbol is not validated by claims it is equal to another religious symbol. When they are, the result is a different symbol, more commonly known as syncretism. If you try to link Yahweh and Allah, you will end up with something which is neither Christianity nor Islam. Paul, in using the “unknown god” to introduce Yahweh did not risk falling into syncretism, because the “unknown god” was not a religious symbol to the Greeks. It was a “just in case” shrine.

          A religious symbol only has power within the community which recognizes its power. Again, a Christian, who is outside the Islamic community, has no place claiming its religious symbols are equal to those within that community. A Christian can affirm the religious liberties under the Constitution due another religious community. That should be sufficient.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Maybe we would all be better off if we all went back to 1928. No Great Depression, no Hitler, no Roosevelt, the Model T was actually a pretty good car and Calvin Coolidge was actually a pretty good president…

      And the Second Klan was a Power to Reckon With in all 48 states, within one election of taking over the Klan State of Indiana and then The White House. (I’m posting this from the former Klanaheim, Kalifornia, whose “Welcome to” city limits signs included the Klonversation code word “KIGY” — “Klansman, I Greet You”.)

      • “Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover agaaaaaaain…”

      • “Kalifornia…” I wonder how many of the Klan went on to join the Bloods.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          In Klonversation, Ku Kluxers had a “secret” recognition code of misspelling works to begin with “K” or ‘KL”, especially three in a row like “Klassy Klean Kars” or “Kandidate Kal Koolidge”.

          The Second Klan of the 1920s was THE largest, THE best-financed, and THE most widespread of all the KKK’s four incarnations. The guy who originally organized it (actually after the movie Birth of a Nation) was a real secret society “sekrit decoder ring” fanboy whose secret language/signs (Klonversation, spelled out in the Kloran) all began with “K” or “KL”.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      Huh? The Model T is *still* a good car.

  4. Joseph (the original) says

    a group of us at our small church recently reviewed this passage as part of our deeper theological study nite’s topic: What is the Gospel?

    it was pointed out that when Jesus selected the passage from Isaiah 61, He curiously stopped reading right in the middle of what was later referenced as verse 2…

    verse 2 as we know it today reads: “… to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God…”

    Jesus stopped reading the passage right after proclaiming the Lord’s favor…

    but there was no proclamation of the day of vengeance of God. that’s why I consider the good news…well, ‘good’…

    thank you Jesus…

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      But a lot of churchmen since have more than made up for Jesus’ lack of proclaiming the rest of the passage.

  5. Amen. Thank you for writing this.

  6. Adam Tauno Williams says

    Yes! The **effective** meaninglessness if The Gospel is notable; a message so very easily bent to other purposes.

  7. The word that Jesus delivered would be very hard to hear. After all, he was telling a group of people under occupation by an oppressive foreign power, a power that had caused them great suffering and hardship, that God was passing them over, and instead preferring their enemies. This is what made them angry to the point of attempting to commit murder; not that Jesus wanted them to help and include the weak and marginal, but that he was telling them that God was about to prefer their enemies, who had done do much to harm them, over them.

    • The Jews of Jesus time were an oppressed people. What Jesus was giving them in this text would not have sounded like Liberation Theology to them, however much it might to us. To them, he sounded like a traitor to his own oppressed people, preferring instead their oppressive enemies.

    • Or perhaps this text is the result of the influence of anti-Jewish Gentile Christian redactors, and their tendency to flatter the Romans at the expense of the Jews.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      Agree – in this case Jesus was ‘siding with’ … the over dogs; not the under dogs. The establishment, not the disenfranchised. It is a very uncomfortable passage. And its meaning – as in what to *DO* with it – the only meaningful type of meaning – is today pretty much impossible to calculate. So much is different. And there is sooo much baggage attached to this. Add in that The Gospel … it often sounds like a worn out record, people have heard all this before, it lacks the shock value it had when Jesus read this passage, or even when Paul addressed the crowds near the alter of To Whom It May Concern [mentioned in previous comments].

      • There is a lot that we have to figure out on our own. The Bible, the reported words and acts of Jesus themselves, cannot determine our way, and sometimes they can’t even intelligently inform our decisions and understanding, for the reasons you give in your comment. But perhaps this is what constitutes our real Christian liberty.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          > the reported words and acts of Jesus themselves,
          > cannot determine our way, and sometimes they can’t
          > even intelligently inform our decisions and understanding,

          So very true. And we seem to find it much easier to take reason for war from those words then we do good council.

          > But perhaps this is what constitutes our real Christian liberty.

          I’ve said here before that a wrathful god is less frightening than a silent one – for silence is ‘the nuclear option’ of wrath. In the same vein this type of ‘liberty’ can be a heavy load.

          • In good faith, what other choice have we but to do our best to bear that load? Liberty is as much a responsibility as it is a gift, and we have no way to escape this responsibility; all apparent avenues of escape are really just acting in “bad faith”, in Sartre’s sense: pretending that our condition is something it’s not.

          • And perhaps the silence of God is not like the silence of a passive-aggressive tyrant; perhaps the silence of God is a function of God’s love, and his choice to suffer with rather than prevail over.

  8. After the big snow
    we shovel out together,
    strangers and neighbors.

  9. That guy in the front row wearing the blue shirt… I’m pretty sure I had him for a class in college once.