Friday, 22 October 2010

Jesus reads from the scroll of Isaiah

Luke 4:14
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
 16He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
 18"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
      because he has anointed me
      to preach good news to the poor.
   He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
      and recovery of sight for the blind,
   to release the oppressed,
    19to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."[e]
 20Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
 22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. "Isn't this Joseph's son?" they asked.
 23Jesus said to them, "Surely you will quote this proverb to me: 'Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.' "
 24"I tell you the truth," he continued, "no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 

Jesus wasn’t a carpenter. I don’t think so. When I hear people say that he was, I am intrigued – why do they think that? Yes I know his dad was a carpenter, but I think Jesus was a rabbi.

You see, the Jewish people sent their children to school. At the age of six they sent their boys and perhaps their girls to learn the Torah. They would memorise the Torah – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy…. all off by heart. At the age of 10 the best ones would stay on at school, those who had managed this feat. However, most would go off and learn their father’s trade at that point. I think Jesus was still at school aged 12, because we learn about his visit to the Temple, when he was left behind, and how amazed the rabbis were amazed at his questions and his understanding. Presumably he was asking them about the scriptures.

Those that stayed would go on to memorise the rest of the Hebrew scriptures – Genesis all the way through Malachi, off by heart. They would stay at school until they were fourteen or fifteen, and then most would go and learn their father’s trade. However, the very best, who had accomplished this would carry on with their learning. I can’t imagine it was many, a tiny percentage.

These few would go and find a rabbi and become a disciple – I disciple doesn’t just want to know what the rabbi know he want to be like the rabbi is. Now the rabbis had different understandings of the scriptures, different interpretations, and that rabbi’s teachings were known as that rabbi’s ‘yoke’. So if you wanted to follow a particular rabbi, you wanted to take on that particular ‘yoke’. So, aged fifteen a boy would find a rabbi and go for an interview. He would be grilled, and at this point most would fail, however, if they were really impressive, then the rabbi would say ‘come and follow me’. And then the kid would leave his family and his village and his friends. Each rabbi would travel, and go from town to town, teaching the scriptures, followed by his disciples. By the end of the day the disciples would be covered in whatever the rabbis would have stepped in. And so there was a saying ‘may you covered in the dust of your rabbi’.

The rabbis were the most respected people, and hence if you had a child in your village who had managed to be so learned and find a rabbi, how would you feel? Pretty good. Your village would be on the map, your villagers aren’t stupid, they are clever. And I believe this is what happened to Jesus. He was the best of the best of the best. He left Nazareth aged fifteen, he was a disciple until he was thirty, which is the age at which they were expected to find their own disciples. This passage is set after he is baptised and before he has called the disciples. He comes home at the end of his training, when he no longer has to be in the dust of his rabbi.

Now Nazareth was a very small place and quite remote – everyone would know everyone and probably be related to everyone. I can imagine that this was the first rabbi they had ever had. They were proud of him. They heard reports that he had preached amazingly in the synagogues in the area. They probably hadn’t seen him since he was fifteen. They were all loving seeing him – wow hasn’t he grown? Doesn’t he speak graciously?

And then Jesus says something that at first seems paranoid, he says ‘no prophet will be accepted in his home town’. He then preached a sermon. He has read a scripture that is radically inclusive, inclusive of the poor, the oppressed, the blind, the prisoners. And then if you read on in the scriptures he tells them that God loves the foreigners, the outsiders, the Gentiles as much if not more than them.

And their reaction? They dragged him out of the synagogue, out to the edge of the cliff that their village was built on with the intention of throwing him over. He escaped. Wow – overreaction or what???
And so.. the moral of the story is that Jesus started his manifesto proclaiming inclusivity and healing, he wanted to embrace the outcasts, the criminals, the poor, the oppressed, the people who are different to those who were in the synagogue. He then illustrated this by saying that God loved foreigners and demonstrated this in history, and it made people mad and want to kill him.

This could sum up Jesus’ ministry all the way through. He said God loved the unlovable and that made people so uncomfortable that they wanted to kill him.

So the first thing to note is that the trick is to be like Jesus and not like the ones who hate. Who makes us uncomfortable? I noticed a couple of groups this week, one was some people who argue that selling sex for money is good, and the other was a group of who say that women shouldn’t be vicars, and have a strong desire to outline exactly what is proper for a woman to do. Both times I had an emotional revulsion that is different to just disagreeing. I wanted to shut them up rather than engaging, or agreeing to differ. It is those revulsions that tear our world apart, not disagreement, which can be generous and constructive. I needed to repent of those feelings, to recognise them for what they were and not justify them.

At the moment, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams is in India, and in a that sermon he preached he said:
"Sometimes we have listened to our own unconverted hearts and used the church of God for our own ends, welcoming people like us and rejecting those who make us uncomfortable. And when any of those things happens, the Church begins to fall apart. The wounds in the Body get wider and deeper, and we find ourselves giving great energy to justifying our decision not to be together. As we stop listening to one another, we stop listening to Christ. Whether this happens in the name of nationality or tradition or pride of achievement or purity of teaching, the effect is the same tragedy."

So having decided that we are not going to be on the side that is revolted by people, but be will be on the side that includes people, what does that mean to us? Well I think it is Good News for two reasons:

The first reason is that we are included. We are the foreigners, the Gentiles that Jesus is talking about. It is us that he loves and us to whom the Day of the Lord’s Favour has been announced. We are the ones who are released, healed, given sight to. For so many people there is the fear that if others knew what we were really like they would reject us, the fear deep down that we are unworthy, the reality that we can be nasty and we are ashamed. We can be oppressed by these fears, in prison if you like. Jesus wants to set us free. He knows what we are like and includes us anyway.

The second reason that it is good news is that we have a job to do, and it is a great job. It is to make the entire world a better place. It is to go round freeing captives, healing the blind, helping the poor. We are to be Jesus’s disciples, covered in his dust, completely dedicated to the mission he has given us, wearing the Yoke of his teachings and enabling all to be included. Of course some people won’t like it, and it will make them very cross. But I can’t think of a better way of living my life than this.

1 comment:

  1. The quote from +ABC was amazing - I had to read it twice. Thank you!