“Hit the road, Jack”. That’s basically what people in Jesus’ home synagogue said. Actually, they went beyond hit the road, to hit whatever’s at the bottom of the cliff they wanted to toss him over. So what happened to Jesus on that day? Things started out well. Jesus read a familiar passage from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah:
”God’s Spirit is on me; he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor, Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, To set the burdened and battered free, to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”
So far, so good. The people seem happy. But Jesus went on, and said, “I suppose you’re going to quote the proverb, ‘Doctor, go heal yourself. Do here in your hometown what we heard you did in Capernaum.’ Well, let me tell you something: No prophet is ever welcomed in his hometown. “
Jesus also mentioned 2 stories from Israel’s past, in which prophets came to the aid of someone in need. Elijah helped a hungry widow in Sidon, and Elisha healed a leper named Naaman, who was from Syria. The common element is both people who experience God’s mercy through a prophet are foreigners. They are not Jews, and definitely not from Jesus’ hometown.
Jesus seems to say, “Don’t think too highly of yourselves.” Because it was Jesus’ hometown, he would know who was living justly, who beat their wives, who traded fairly, who charged outrageous interest, who cared properly for servants and slaves, and who treated them poorly. He would know what these folks were like all week, not just when they came for worship.
The relief organization Oxfam, released an article that says 62 people control over half the wealth in the whole world. I am pretty sure none of them are here this morning. The report was timed to coincide with the annual World Economic Forum in Davos. It calls attention to the stark reality that 1% of people own more wealth than the other 99% combined.
I can get pretty worked up when I read these numbers. Partly because I grew up in poverty, and partly because I see on a regular basis what poverty and hunger does to children, and families.
Shouldn’t there be a rule that says no person can have more than their own weight in gold, or platinum, or diamonds? Shouldn’t there be a way to spread wealth around, just enough that babies don’t go hungry, children are not starved for an education, and families aren’t left thirsty for hope and opportunity to make their lives better?
I can still get pretty huffy, and wonder how people live with themselves, when I hear about the next 5-10 % of people that control the next quarter of the world’s money. It gets more personal, however, when I acknowledge that I spend more money at Tim Horton’s in a year, than whole families live on, in some parts of the world. How can I live with myself? What is wrong with me? Why do I not wake up, and smell the human misery, and share more of what I have?
One of my favourite modern prophets is the Canadian songwriter Bruce Cockburn. He sings truth with this line in a song called Justice: “Everybody Loves to see Justice done On somebody else”
In the last line Jesus read from the Book of Isaiah, it said the prophet has come to announce, “This is God’s year to act!” That’s a rough translation of the original, which says it was time to proclaim the Year of Jubilee.
The Jubilee Year was something called for in ancient Jewish scriptures, that people never actually followed. It would be like a big re-start, or do-over, to the whole economy. Every fifty years, all lands, property, wealth, everything, would be returned to the original owners, going back to the time when the country was first settled. So if your family had grown wealthy over the generations, and gathered a lot of land, it would go back to the previous owners. If your family had gone bankrupt, and lost everything, they would get their original share back. Things would be evened out, so that all slaves would be freed, the poor provided for, and every family, every clan, would have a fresh start.
What would happen if there was a do-over right here, and all the land had to be returned to the original owners, before Europeans settled here?
The Year of Jubilee was a vision of how God sees each person as equal, and equally entitled to live, to grow, to eat, to learn, to thrive. It is the opposite of any sense of entitlement or privilege. No wonder it enraged the people in the synagogue. It slams head long against the me-first, my family-first, my clan-first, my race-first, my economic-class, my club-first mentality that was strong in Jesus’ time, and may be even more prevalent today, in our consumer driven culture.
We love hearing how God loves each of us. We may be less excited to hear God does not actually love us more than other people. God loves all 8 billion of us, we are all members of the same human family. We are responsible for, and involved with, the well-being of all people, whether they are foreign to us or not.
Jesus was telling the people in his hometown, and us, that any system, or political idea, or cultural bias that says some people are more deserving of the basics of life than others, and we have no obligation to those who suffer, is a self-serving lie.
In feudal times, the doctrine of the divine right of kings suggested that those who were in power, even if they had won that power through use of brutal force, were in power because God wanted it that way.
In our time, consumer culture seems to dictate that economic might makes right, and our values are determined by market forces. If something sells, or makes a profit, it is by definition, good. If it doesn’t, it is bad.
Politicians, and big time preachers have handlers to tell them what causes to promote, and what issues to stay away from. If Jesus’ advance team had been on top of things, he wouldn’t have been run out of town, because they would have told him nobody wanted to hear what he had to say.
They would have had him stick to issues that get people excited, but let them point the finger at someone else. Let him talk about sexual morality, or welfare fraud, or the war on terror, or how property values go down if too many low income housing projects get built. Issues that let us blame someone else for the world’s woes.
Getting run out of town is not necessarily proof your message is righteous. There are some messengers we may wish to run out of town, because their narrow vision, their racism, their obvious self-serving agenda just makes us cringe, and we need for their poison to not be spread.
The message of the worth, and worthiness of each human being might get temporarily run out of town, but it doesn’t stay run out of town. It always comes back, because God’s love is bigger than pollsters and spin-masters and the posses that want to scare away the truth.
I love how this story ends. Jesus miraculously, mysteriously passes through the midst of the angry crowd, and moves on, to preach and teach in other places. The message of God’s love, and justice, meant for every one of us, carries on. Thanks be to God for that. Amen