Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Brother Kevin Patrick Cagle
BCP – Epiphany 4 C - Sunday 28 January 2007
1 Corinthians 14:12b-20
"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."
As our lesson from the Gospel according to Luke begins today Jesus has just spoken these words from the prophet Isaiah. Jesus is fresh from his long experience in the wilderness where he had been pushed and challenged. Before that - he had recently been baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River - being clearly identified as Gods anointed one. On his journey toward Nazareth, where we find him today, Jesus moved about Galilee teaching and healing people of all kinds of diseases. He was becoming famous for his eloquence and for his healing abilities. He had experienced for himself the deepest things of God and he was beginning to speak out about what he knew.
The picture we are given in Luke today is not one of gentle Jesus, meek and mild. Jesus is speaking in his hometown synagogue. This is the room where he was taught to read the very words just spoken - and these are the people who instructed him in the Jewish tradition. They are relatives, neighbors, childhood friends and perhaps even some long-term enemies. Jesus is among people he knows and who know him. The words spoken are not comforting or reassuring to this tightly knit community. They are challenging and even provocative.
Immediately after Jesus read from Isaiah, everyone present spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, Is not this Josephs son? They recognize him as one of their own.
Jesus is well received. He then proceeds to tell the group what they are really thinking. Putting words in their mouths, Jesus tells them he knows that they are thinking he is a bit strange really - and in need healing himself. Though they were initially impressed by the gracious words falling from his lips, they doubted all of this healing of lepers and such. They wanted Jesus to prove himself by healing someone in Nazareth - where the hometown folks could see what was going on.
Jesus then reminds them that God had often sent prophets to Israel - and that these prophets had acted in accordance with Gods purposes and not to make the people of Israel comfortable. God had even passed over people like these standing in the Nazareth synagogue - in favor of marginalized people like the widow in Sidon. He reminded them that, There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." Naaman had been an officer in an army with enmity for Israel, but the prophet had been sent to deliver healing to him.
This would be something like Jesus telling us here this morning that God was passing us over to become chaplain to Ossama Bin Laden.
The predictable response to Jesus in the synagogue is anger. Provocation of this kind can only come from one who knows - and is known well - by their audience. This quiet gathering of the faithful becomes a lynch mob. All in response to hearing truth told about themselves. They are not happy at being known so deeply and completely. They have been exposed at the hand of one of their own. Jesus is not supposed to act in this way. Where is his hometown loyalty? Their secrets are his secrets and being a part of a tightly knit community means that secrets were to be protected. Challenge to the status quo is not welcome. Change of heart is not wanted. The ending is ugly. Jesus slips from their midst just before they throw him over a cliff to his death.
What would have been a happy outcome to this scene? What did Jesus want from these hometown folks anyway? It is hard to say, but I think the story of Naaman helps us to see. Jesus chose this story to make a point about accepting the tough truth of God as well as healing.
The story of Naaman is found in the second book of Kings. He was a captain in the Aramean army and was a well respected person with his King. Naaman was also a leper. A captive Israeli servant girl working in Naamans household told of the prophet Elisha who lived in her homeland and could certainly heal Naaman. Naaman was a proud man and Israel was the enemy of his King, but Naaman wanted to be healed of leprosy and would stop at nothing to be so healed. With his Kings blessing, Naaman traveled into enemy territory to plead with the King of Israel for the healing that was reportedly available there. Elisha came forth with instruction for Naaman. To be healed, he simply had to wash himself in the Jordan River there in Israel seven times. Doing so would result in the restoration of his skin.
Naaman became furious. He considered the action prescribed to be degrading. He had hoped for an elaborate magic show performed by the prophet or for some challenging test of endurance to be assigned him - with healing as the reward. And besides that, certainly the distant waters of some far away river were better than those of the Jordan which belonged to the King of Israel. The task was too simple.
Naaman was angry and ready to leave, but his friends spoke hard words that challenged his pride and his grandiose expectations. They convinced him to do the simple thing that God required of him in order for healing to take place.
Naaman did not remain fixed in his initial anger reaction. He used it as an opportunity to move forward. Naaman did not only plunge into the waters of the Jordan that day, he also plunged into the depths of his own inner being right there as he stood in that moment.
This was a moment of drastic and frightening change for Naaman. His vision of community had to be expanded. These people of Israel who he thought he knew so well his enemies, held the keys to his healing. Naaman made a choice to confront his own anger and his biases and to cast himself on the mercy of God. His decision to allow his world to become smaller resulted in healing of body and the finding of faith.
The people in the synagogue of Nazareth did not follow Naamans example on the day of Jesusvisit there. They would not let go of their anger. They refused to allow for the possibility that Jesus saw something that they could not see.
Perhaps Jesus had hoped that he could use his familiarity with the Nazarenes to get straight to the point with them. Rather than beating around the bush, maybe Jesus hoped to tell them - that what God wants is changed hearts and an expanded view of what being in community means and who it includes.
This is not how things worked out that day. Rather than allowing their familiarity with Jesus be an instrument of direct communication, they used familiarity instead as an excuse to dismiss what Jesus was trying to tell them.
I have to ask myself this morning: Who speaks truth to me that I do not want to hear? Who makes me so angry that I want to kill them? What am I afraid of and why will I not listen?
It is in listening through our initial emotional response that we hear the tough truth that God wants to tell us and it is in speaking directly to those closest to us that we help each other accept the healing and comfort offered by God.
Without his friends encouraging words, Naaman would likely have left Israel in anger and continued to suffer from leprosy. We need to speak out when our friends and our world are in danger. We need to speak clearly and directly, not shrinking from difficult truths. We need to pray for compassion and openness to those who we have labeled as enemies.
Our world has become so small. We are known to each other. We live in an age of high tech gossip where fine details of our lives are easily revealed. We cannot escape from each other and I think that this is good. For me it is a sign of what God wants us to be, a global community of truth and reconciliation where all are welcome, most especially those we had considered insignificant or even enemies.
For healing, God calls us to listen and to speak. God calls us to plunge into the waters at hand, the waters of ourselves.
Listen and speak.
Listen and speak.
In doing so, we participate in the healing of our world.