February 3, 2019

Luke 4:21-30

Leslie Buerschaper

Mount Seymour United Church

Our reading today starts with the words: Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Let’s recap last week’s reading to remind us of the scripture that has been fulfilled: Jesus read the following from a scroll of the prophet Isaiah: “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.”

This week’s reading continues: “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.”

There are many things to wonder about in this reading, many questions that may have no clear answers.

Did the listeners speak well of Jesus because he said the scripture had been fulfilled by them hearing it; by the words being directed at them?

I wonder why the people were amazed and what prompted Jesus to say: “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.”

Jesus continues by telling the people that Elijah and Elisha fed and healed non-believers; outsiders: those that found faith in God only after their good fortune; and this angers the people. Is this because the Good News sent by God is meant for those other than themselves; those on the outside of their tradition? Did they want to throw Jesus off the cliff because he was telling them that God was bringing the Good News to others and not to them, the ones who have followed God and the law of the temple?

When reflecting on this passage and wondering how Good News for some is not necessarily Good News for others, I was brought back to the book I read over Christmas. It was the story of a Jewish girl, named Natalia who was not yet four years old at the beginning of the story. Natalia was abandoned by her parents who were fleeing the Nazis in their hometown of Bucharest. The girl’s parents left her where someone would find her and they fully intended to return in a few days to get her; once they knew they could all be safe.

They never came back.

Natalia was adopted soon after by a loving couple; two aristocrats, successful in business and wanting for nothing except a child. Natalia loved to play the piano. She loved her parents and her life, but then the war came to Bucharest.

At the beginning of the war, Romania had helped Hitler. They provided fuel for the war effort. Towards the end of the war Romania switched their allegiance and supported the allied forces. Life was horrible for Natalia during the war as it was for countless others. And although the end of the war was Good News for so many, it was not good news for Natalia and so many others.

The iron curtain came down.

Those who had had plenty before the war were now starving and banned from working. They were stripped of their possessions and many were arrested and never seen again. What had happened?

Did the people of Nazareth ask this question as well? Did they wonder why this Good News from God was directed at “others” and not themselves?

The book of Luke is a travel narrative and one of social justice. Jesus travels a lot spreading the Good News. Even in our reading today there is movement. The story Jesus tells of Elijah and Elisha has movement. Elijah was sent to the widow, And Elisha sent the leper to be cleansed. Jesus was physically moved to the cliff and then walked beyond. What does this tell us about what God is asking of the people of Nazareth and of us? The people in Jesus’ hometown were dedicated, God obeying people. They went to temple and followed their ritual, but did they go out and proclaim God’s work to those on the outside?

Probably not in most instances. Instead, when they were reminded of God’s work, though those on the “outside”, they pushed the bearer of the Good News to the edge of a cliff. They were so wrapped up in their anger and contempt that Jesus was able to walk right through the crowd and out of town.

We are reminded here of what God asks of us. We are not merely to sit in church on Sunday and worship. We are to go out into the world and “proclaim the Good News to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.”

The Good News Jesus spoke of was not new news. The work of God is apparent in the actions of Elijah and Elisha. Jesus is reminding the Nazarene people of this. But this Good News appears to be hard news for the listeners in the temple. Was it hard news for them because it meant change, a way of being in the world that was different from what they were used to?

Good News for some often means hard news for others.

The parents who are told that an organ is available to save their child’s life is good news for that family, but it is likely hard news for the family of the donor. Wind turbines are good news for reducing greenhouse gases, but they are hard news for the endangered bat population.

MSP payments being transferred to employers may be good news for individuals and families struggling to make ends meet, but it is hard news for the independent small business owner who has to take on another expense.

Cancelling pipelines may be good news for the environment but without job retraining and alternate forms of clean energy, it is hard news for all the people who lose their jobs.

Cancelling tolls on the Port Mann bridge may be good news for our wallets but it is hard news for our environment and an already cash strapped, inadequate transit system.

Working to save our environment, working towards reconciliation, feeding the hungry, helping the poor, giving a voice to the marginalized are what we are called to do.

It is what we must do.

But we must do these things while remembering that Good News for some is in fact hard news for others. We are all God’s people, even the oppressors and those that ravage our environment. We cannot turn the tables on injustice without considering all sides.

In Natalia’s story the rich became the poor and the oppressors became the oppressed, but the already poor remained poor, and the already oppressed stayed oppressed under a new oppressor.

We need to speak up against injustice. It is our obligation, but is it not also our obligation to seek alternatives for everyone, even those that cause harm? We are all God’s children and our mission must be to spread the Good News to all, to make it Good News for all, not just for some.

But how do we do this? This church is a place of comfort for us, but what we are called to do in this place can also bring us discomfort. Change is never easy, it takes away our comfort: and sometimes, as Albus Dumbledore said to Harry Potter, “we must choose between what is easy and what is right.”

Sometimes we need to suffer for the greater good. We cannot fight ignorance with ignorance. We need to try to understand why people do the things they do if we are to offer an alternative that comes from love. We need to find God’s grace in the darkness of our suffering so we can change our perspective and find new opportunities that bring the Good News to everyone.