A sermon by the Rev’d Peter Jin
As we heard last Sunday, Jesus is visiting the synagogue in his home town, Nazareth.
He has just read from Isaiah, in these words:
“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,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
He then has the audacity to add:
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
To us believers, this is an affirmation of our faith, and is music to our ears.
Of course, there is more to it than that. We need to examine ourselves to determine whether we are really listening, and what we are doing with this knowledge of the Gospel, as a Church and as individual Christians.
But what was the reaction of the Nazareth congregation around 27 AD? Were those people as excited and inspired to hear Jesus’ message as we claim to be?
Jesus’ announcement that the powerful text of Isaiah is fulfilled, with his recitation of God’s presence through Elijah and Elisha, points to and emphasise this reality. God is revealing God’s kingdom in the strangest of places, in the midst of outsiders to the established community of faith.
Jesus shows us that unexpected outsiders figure so prominently as models of faith in Israelite history.
Jesus recalled two examples—Elijah and Elisha— who reached beyond the people of Israel to welcome those who were most representative of the marginalised Gentiles.
Elijah went to a poor widow in Sidon. The widow was obedient and faithful to Elihah’s instructions from God, willing to give the last of what she had in order for her household to receive a blessing from God. She endured the severe famine in the land as her meagre food resources were continually replenished by God. And she was a Gentile, a foreigner, an outsider.
Elisha healed the Syrian leper who, although he was initially resistant to Elisha’s prophetic instructions, eventually immersed himself seven times in the Jordan and was healed of his leprosy. He too was a Gentile, a foreigner, an outsider. Both of these examples represented the extreme other to those in the synagogue crowd, and they served to drive home the point that the good news Jesus proclaimed was intended for Jew and Gentile alike.
The recitation of the ancient stories provoked the temple crowd that moments earlier had spoken well of him and had wondered at his gracious words. Here, now, was the insider who suddenly becomes the outsider.
This is God at work, as God has been at work across the millennia, as God is at work even now— unfolding this kingdom of God with, through, and among particular people, who are often outsiders to the assumed faithful.
The fulfilment of Scripture is challenging and frightening to those who are incapable of including and identifying with marginalised outsiders.
Yet, the fulfilment of Scripture is also liberating and healing to those who are able to keep their eyes fixed on Jesus. Those who model his example of engaging the other and moving beyond prescribed roles and expectations.
In the midst of the global complexities, the church faces the daunting possibility of being followers of Christ and living in the kingdom of God.
I was certainly an outsider when I joined the Anglican church in NZ. It is seen as a very pakeha denomination, with very few Chinese members. My Catholic friend thought I had lost my mind. In fact, I did know and still know myself to be an outsider.
I was born and lived in a Communist country, raised by working-class atheistic parents.
I went to a local school where my academic performance was at the bottom of the class. And I don’t speak English as well as you.
Jesus’ teaching and action invites me to live in the kingdom of God, to be a follower of Christ.
I strongly feel my call to be a bridge between migrants and the Anglican Church.
Jesus comes into our midst and declares that the Scriptures have been fulfilled in him, through him. Can we bear to hear that?
Then he goes on to create a new way that is ours to follow and to re-create.
We can listen but not hear, hear but not respond, respond but not follow.
We can be filled with wrath, as were those in the temple who heard the young Jesus speak of the new way.
We can be quietly indifferent.
Or we can—indeed we are called to—follow, and by following contribute to that renewing, redeeming Gospel that is God’s relentlessly powerful story.
To follow and to participate is also to be open to its costs.
It is to be with and to become the outsider.
Exclusion is usually an individual experience, but it also can be a collective one.
Today’s Gospel reading gives us a good example. The people take offence not so much with what Jesus claims about himself, but with the claims that Jesus makes about this God who is more than their own tribal god.
These days taking offence at the beliefs of another is a popular pastime for many. It can be triggered by just about anything – theology, world view, vaccine, race, sexual orientation, immigration. The holder of an ‘offensive’ opinion can quickly become an outsider, can be ‘cancelled’.
Not much has changed since Jesus’ day.
I would like to suggest three questions for us all to ponder:
- How do we live harmoniously in the kingdom of God with those who have different views and beliefs from our own?
2. Are we like those people who initially found inspiration in Jesus’ teaching, but then find it an overwhelming challenge and reject the hard parts?
3. Could Jesus slip past us and we not recognise him? Do we see Jesus in the other, especially the marginalised and the oppressed?