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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Epiphany 4, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
February 3, 2013

Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30

The good news of acceptance

This is a rich and wonderful Gospel text. This is a significant moment. Jesus is making clear just what he understands his ministry and life to be about – just what he understands the mission of God to be about. He does it with reference to a prophetic text (though not straightforwardly so). He does it with brevity, with the fearlessness of the psalmist who draws on the spirit of “true friendship” (I really like that translation by Patricia Stevenson); he does it without regard to popularity – yet with loving regard for all, even for those “filled with indignation” at his words. “There is no limit to love’s forebearance,” says St Paul, “to its trust, its hope, its power to endure. Love never fails …” God be with you

Jesus stands to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. What he reads is interesting. It’s from Isaiah 61:1-2, mostly. He adds a bit, omits a bit, then sits down to give the homily.

If we read from Isaiah 61:1-2, we can note the similarities and the differences:

“The Spirit of our God is upon me:
because the Most High has anointed me
to bring Good News to those who are poor,
to heal broken hearts,
to proclaim liberty to those held captive,
and recovery of sight to those who are blind;
to proclaim the year of our God’s favour/acceptance,
and the day of God’s vengeance.”

The bit Jesus adds is from Isaiah 58: “… and release to those in prison” which may be translated: “… and to let the oppressed go free.” It’s quite similar to the preceding phrase he has read from Isaiah 61, “to proclaim liberty to those held captive”, so why repeat the idea of release? The import from Isaiah 58, in context, has to do with hospitality and social justice over ritual fasting. The Isaiah text goes on to say: “Is not this the fast [worthy of choice] … Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house …?” Jesus, too, will enact this kind of concern for liberty and release. It bears repeating.

More striking, arguably, is the bit Jesus leaves out. He stops at the reference to the year of God’s favour, the year of acceptance – a reference in the Torah to the cancelling of debts and release from slavery in the seventh year and in the fiftieth year (seven times seven years plus one), as well as to liberation and rest for the land. He stops there, and does not read the next phrase from Isaiah 61:2.

He doesn’t proclaim “the day of God’s vengeance”.

Most scholars think this is significant. Jesus isn’t a slave to the text – even a beloved text like Isaiah. He takes his stand there, or rather, in the manner of a teacher/rabbi, he sits down. “Today, in your hearing, this scripture passage is fulfilled.”

No one seems upset that Jesus has omitted the reference to vengeance – which is a reference to judgement on Israel’s enemies. Perhaps they haven’t noticed the omission? Perhaps they’ve just heard what they’ve wanted to hear? Did they enjoy the tone of Jesus’ voice? The smooth cadence? The assured delivery? The “eloquence”? They seem very interested in family matters and connections – taking pride in the fact that he is a local, one of them – a model representative …

Jesus elaborates by way of two examples of loving outreach – neither having to do with vengeance or judgement on Israel’s enemies. In fact, both examples have to do with God’s care and acceptance of foreigners. Elijah and Elisha, bearers of God’s word, brought sustenance and healing to a Sidonite and Syrian respectively. It was shocking then, and it’s shocking now that Jesus identifies with such indiscriminate love. They don’t miss the point this time.

“They rise up [terrible and ironic reference to rising/resurrection] and drag Jesus out of town, leading him to the brow of the hill … with the intention of hurling him over the edge.”

The one who proclaims the “year of God’s acceptance” (v. 19), is not himself destined to be accepted by his own. What had begun with such favour and acceptance ends in rejection and violence.

It’s one thing to speak well, to present well – with eloquence and style, charisma and cleverness… it’s another thing to speak against prejudice and parochialism, to speak and act for compassion, to speak for and enact genuine hospitality …

In the drama of the Gospel the event looks both backward and forward. It looks backward to the second oracle of Simeon (2:34-35), where the old man had prophesied that Jesus would be a sign of contradiction and that the thoughts of many hearts would be revealed. This is precisely what has happened in Nazareth. The Nazarene’s initial approval of Jesus was a superficial attitude involving no real conversion. The salvation that Jesus brings cannot rest simply on the surface, leaving the depths of human beings untouched, unexplored and unhealed. The Gospel suggests that he felt trapped and imprisoned by the narrowness he divined in his townsfolk. To be true to his mission and free to exercise it in the way God willed, he had to bring to the surface and expose the “thoughts” that lay in their hearts – a challenge the Nazarenes failed. Coming to “knowledge of salvation” means coming to self-knowledge as well – something that usually involves a painful discovery of the narrowness of one’s “thoughts”.

The episode also looks forward, in a symbolic way, to what will later happen when Jesus “visits”, not his hometown, but the capital of his own people, Jerusalem. There, on a much larger scale, the same pattern will work itself out. Initially well received – at least by the people – Jesus will end up being rejected by the leaders and, this time in reality, put to death. But in a true sense, through his resurrection and ascension, he will also pass through their midst. When his Spirit empowers his disciples, he will also go on his way as they begin to proclaim the gospel beyond Jerusalem, in all Judea, Samaria and “the ends of the earth”. (See Brendan Byrne, The Hospitality of God).

The heart of Jesus’ message is the good news of acceptance, the invitation to all to come and be drawn into the hospitality of God. This broad, inclusive outreach will meet with resistance and rejection on the part of those reluctant to undergo the conversion required. The prophet who comes as visitor offering the hospitality of God meets with inhospitality and rejection. But rejection does not have the last word: it, too, can be drawn into God’s saving plan and made to further, rather than restrict, the outreach of grace.

It’s one thing to speak well, to present well – with eloquence and style, charisma and cleverness … it’s another thing to speak against prejudice and parochialism, to speak and act for compassion, to speak for and enact genuine hospitality …

When have you perceived this distinction, this truth? When have you experienced this truth?

Perhaps chairing a contentious community forum? Perhaps voicing dissent? Perhaps publicly changing your mind on a particular issue? Or being held to account for a promise or commitment? Or bearing your soul artistically, politically, religiously?

It’s one thing to speak well, to present well – with eloquence and style, charisma and cleverness … it’s another thing to speak against prejudice and parochialism, to speak and act for compassion, to speak for and enact genuine hospitality …

When have you perceived this distinction, this truth? When have you experienced this truth?

Let’s complete the homily together, in a Spirit of acceptance and with genuine hospitality … Amen.