Jesus is… so confrontational today. I’m tempted to paint his village as unkind, but they ARE kind. They welcome Jesus in and speak well of him. They speak with amazement. They’ve heard he’s been doing miracles, and welcome him home.
Oh sure, some point out this is just Joseph’s boy. Maybe they elbow each other about silly antics Jesus did as a baby. They don’t think of him as a prophet. They especially don’t think of him as the son of God; or as God incarnate.
But they’re not intentionally cruel. Just a little… belittling.
While they’re still in amazement at how Jesus has grown, Jesus puts words in their mouths. “You’re going to say ‘Doctor, cure thyself!’ and you’re going to ask me to do the miracles here I did in the past. But I’m not going to, because you won’t accept me.”
I bet the town is confused at first. Accept you? Of course we accept you little sugarplum! But yet, if you want us to think you’re more than the kid we babysat, you’ll have to show us a miracle.
Jesus continues to their shocked and scandalized faces, “Do you remember the prophet Elijah? There was a severe famine. It didn’t rain for 3 years and 6 months. There were widows everywhere and everywhere were people suffering. But God sent Elijah to none of these widows but one – a foreign widow in a foreign town.
When Elijah arrives, God tells him the widow is going to provide food and shelter for him. But the widow tells Elijah she is gathering sticks to make the very last of her flour and oil for herself and her son… and then they are going to die from the famine. Elijah tells her, “Give me this last bit of bread, and my god will be sure your jar of flour and jar of oil don’t run out until it rains again.”
The woman face a choice. She could believe this stranger and give her last meal to him… or she could give the last bit of food to herself and her son. She could have faith in this strange god, or she could keep to her local gods.
She chooses to give Elijah the bread.
And God makes sure they have oil and flour for herself, the boy, and Elijah during the whole famine.
Elijah was sent to the marginalized, the powerless, those starving, and those in need of hearing about God. Elijah was sent to those who would accept him.
Picture it, anger is appearing on the faces of Jesus’ neighbors and cousins and brothers and uncles. His aunts and sisters and nieces getting the second hand account outside of the synagogue. Our Jesus, OUR Jesus, isn’t going to do any miracles here?! We raised him! And he won’t even do a single awesome thing here?
He should show preferential treatment to his own family and town! THAT is US!
He thinks WE won’t accept him? We raise this kid! He OWES us!
Jesus implies his hometown doesn’t need miracles: they already have them and live with God. And, that although they are suffering, there are worse off people that Jesus is being sent to by God.
Do you feel the anger growing? Why don’t we who faithfully serve get rewarded miracles? We, who are born into the faith, we should be the special ones.
Jesus continues by bringing up the next beloved prophet of our shared history: Elisha. In Elisha’s time, many, many people had leprosy. But Elisha miraculously cured only one: Naaman.
Naaman isn’t Jewish. He is haughty. He doesn’t trust God or the prophet Elisha. But finally he bathes in the river as directed, and miraculously is cured of his leprosy. From there, he changes faith and honors God and the prophet, and shares his faith at home.
But the Jewish lepers continue to have leprosy.
This is NOT fair.
Jesus’ relatives and neighbors get up to their feet furious. You’re saying God is showing preferential treatment to those who don’t honor God?
You’re saying WE won’t accept YOU? Physician, heal yourself!
And they run Jesus out of his hometown and try to kill him.
… And they were right. Jesus is not about what’s fair. He tells parables of a master giving his servants all the same amount of money whether they worked an hour or eight hours. That’s not fair.
He talks about sons who run away, spend all their father’s wealth, and come home broke being honored while sons who stay and obey their father get their normal lot. Really not fair to that older son.
Jesus is not about fair.
Jesus is about just.
Justice says those in Jesus’ hometown knew God loved them and knew how to live according to God’s word. Jesus’ ministry is to show the world of God’s love… not just those who already know.
Justice says everyone should have enough money to eat, even if they can only find work for an hour.
Justice says God welcomes home the sinners and the sinless, because all are God’s children.
But it’s not fair.
Not fair in the least.
But it is justice.
Picture three boys trying to watch a baseball game, but there’s a wooden fence in the way. Each boy is a different height: tall, average, and short. The tall boy can see over the fence. The other two cannot. We have three box they can stand on to help them see. How shall we distribute the boxes?
First, lets be fair. We give each boy one box to stand on. Now the tall boy is even taller and can still see. The average boy can now see. But the short boy is still too short.
We can’t give preferential treatment to the last, right? That wouldn’t be fair. But all three boys cannot see the game.
So let’s be just. Justice says the tall boy doesn’t need help to see. Justice says the second average sized boy needs just one box to see. And the third boy needs two boxes to see. Now, all three can see the game. But we had to distribute the boxes according to need instead of all getting some.
If you’ve seen or heard this illustration, then you know what comes next: the best world is where we don’t need boxes at all because we take away the barrier of the wooden fence. All three boys can watch the game through a chain-link fence without help.
That is shalom. That is wholeness. That is curing the world of systemic sin and barriers and woes. That is the heaven on earth we are called to create.
But in the meantime… there is sin… and there are boxes to help people cope with it… How are we going to use our resources to help people?
Jesus tells us to lower the high and lift up the low, so all are equitable. That means for his hometown, and for us, there’s not preferential treatment JUST because we’re faithful.
The reward for being Christian is being among the people of God, and living aware of God’s love of us.
Miracles, an easy life, favoritism from God? Those are not a given. Very faithful people are denied miracles and very faithless people get them. And the reverse happens, too.
The reward for being Christian is the life lived. The life reborn. The foretaste of the life God is bringing.
And it ain’t fair. And its scandalous.
But it is good news to those who need it the most.