Sermon Ideas For Luke 4:21-30 Part 2
The truth, if known, may set us free, but it also tends to threaten and offend us at its first hearing. Truth is iconoclastic, shattering treasured world views and cherished commitments. Truth reminds us of our limited understanding and partial vision. Truth, though eagerly invited is not easily received. Therefore, truth is more readily heard in a context of trust and concern rather than one of critique and judgment.
Family therapists, on the one hand, have long spoken of "joining" the family system in order to have a healing influence on the communication, structure, and meaning of the family. Those working with families have learned that "outside" intervention is resisted by systems. Therefore, the therapist's task is to join the family, becoming part of the system, to become an agent of change. "The therapist gains acceptance of and admittance into the family by acknowledging and promoting the family's strengths, by respecting the family's existing hierarchies and value systems, by supporting the family subsystems, and by confirming each individual's feeling of worth."1 Once the therapist is "in" then change can be facilitated. The therapeutic goal is to "break up rigid patterns" of behavior and to "create new experiences."
Jesus, on the other hand, who was local and known ("Is not this Joseph's son?"), faced a different problem. Those hearing his words could not believe "one of their own" could be making such unorthodox claims ("Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing"). They were offended at the suggestion that those who normally thought of themselves as "in" for the generational inheritance were now being passed over for those persons usually thought to be "out"--the disinherited. The townspeople felt everyone would be in agreement. They thought in terms of a "we" rather than a "you" and "I." This "stuck togetherness" excluded understanding the situation from anything other than a very ego-centric view.
In this story Jesus is demonstrating the presence of God and the freedom of God. God is transcendent though proximate. The pastor faces a similar task in preaching and developing leadership. There is the dual task of joining the congregational system in order to have influence while remaining separate from it in order to keep a fresh perspective. Authority is derived from the ability to be with others and yet be a separate self, free to speak and act.
With all due respect to Aesop, who said "familiarity breeds contempt," the reason those gathered in the synagogue reacted to Jesus in such a negative way stems from his description of the manner in which God's promises were to be fulfilled. How had the worshipers anticipated the fulfillment of the promissory history contained in Isaiah? Did they understand God's choice to be with the widow at Zaraphath and Naaman the Syrian? How did they presume God's messiah would appear? In the person of Jesus of Nazareth?
The people were angry when they realized there is no automatic inclusion. No one is granted the privilege of tenure in God's Kingdom. It was the challenge to the "familiarity" which bred the contempt. The anger emerged when the hearers realized that the pool of potential recipients had been enlarged. One of their own claimed to speak for God. Jesus was claiming to belong to a larger sphere of influence--the coming of the kingdom.
The examples given by Jesus, of the widow and the leper, draw an envious response from his hearers. They are angry at the prospect of others having what they feel rightfully belongs to them. The threat, spawning the homicidal rage, comes from the sense of injury experienced by those who had thought they were next in line to receive the prize.
Brian Grant, in his work on the seven deadly sins, says that envy is the jealous response to the perception that "something I must have, or be, or accomplish" is being taken or given to someone else.
"Envy" is the sin of wishing that evil might befall someone else who has something I want, so that I, instead, might get it... "It is wishing that you not be in the place or position that you are, because I want it for myself and fear that you will keep me from having it."2
The anger comes from the shame of having failed at having, being, or doing as much as thought necessary. Now someone else will receive the prize. The anger is focused on Jesus, who is reminding the hearers that the desired position does not necessarily belong to them and, in fact, may be given to others.
Envy is technically a two person feeling, including hatred for another for having what I feel properly belongs to me. Jealousy, on the other hand, is a three person or triangular phenomenon, in which one feels "another" has been chosen "over me." Jesus' hearers were perhaps both envious that others were to receive what they wanted and also jealous that God, the parent as it were, would show favor over them, giving the prize to others. Those hearing Jesus did not consider the "others" worthy siblings.
I had a friend who grew up the child of missionaries. As a young boy he remembered returning to Japan aboard an airliner, following a holiday. That particular day a group of retired fire fighters, and spouses, from New Jersey were also making their way to the same city. As the plane neared the airport the flight attendant asked all "foreigners" to fill out a form found in the seat pocket in front of the travelers. One of the burley old fire fighters burst out, "I ain't fill'en out this form. I'm no foreigner!"
It is hard to remember that none can claim citizenship in God's Kingdom. It is Christ who claims citizenship with us, turning our world into God's world. Jesus has authority because he is with us and yet does not belong to us. God comes near and yet passes through our midst and goes on the way.
James L. Philpott
1. "Joining/Working Alliance/Therapeutic System" in The Language of Family Therapy, Ed. by Simon, Stierlin, and Wynne (New York: Family Process Press, 1985), p. 203. 2. Brian W. Grant, From Sin to Wholeness (Philadelphia: the Westminster Press, 1982), p. 101.