The Mischievous, Scandalous Spirit

I think God sometimes puts a passage of Scripture in our path to drive home to us something he wants us to learn. God did that with me over the course of this week, and I suspect He was doing it with others too. Three times this week, the story of Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth from Luke 4 was read in worship. The story was first read on Wednesday in chapel. Ironically, its appearance on this day was an “accident.” Dr. Purves, the liturgist for the day, was given the order of service, which contained a typo. He was supposed to read from Luke 24, this Sunday’s lectionary reading, but thanks to the typo, we heard Luke 4. The next day was ESF chapel, and we used the same text as the basis for our drama and sermon. Then again tonight for the Metro Urban Institute’s Intensive Weekend, the preacher’s sermon was based on this text. Three days in a row the story of Jesus reading from the scroll in Isaiah in his hometown was read in worship at PTS. The leaders of the three services had no interaction with one another, and the text doesn’t appear in either the daily lectionary for this week or in the Revised Common Lectionary for this Sunday. Is this just a coincidence, or is the Holy Spirit up to some mischief?

As I’ve reflected on this passage of Scripture over the past three days, what’s struck me the most is how easy we try to make this teaching of Jesus. The people of Nazareth wanted to kill Jesus by the end of this story because they were so enraged at the thought of Syrians receiving benefits from the “year of the Lord’s favor.” In ESF chapel, no one wanted to throw us out (even if we staged a fake “mob”) when we said that this teaching of Jesus implies a concern for all the nations of the world. Tonight at the MUI worship, no one wanted to kick out the preacher who said that this teaching applied to the poor and oppressed of our cities. In fact, we gave the preacher a standing ovation. Is our lack of anger at this teaching simply because we’re so much like Jesus? Do we really get this more than the first hearers of it in Nazareth? I’m afraid not. It’s pretty easy for a bunch of mission-minded evangelicals to apply this text to global Christianity. It’s also easy for a group of urban pastors and lay leaders to apply this text to the oppressed in their own city.

This isn’t to say that the text doesn’t apply to these groups; it does. BUT, the text is just as much a call to the reader to move beyond the box of their own concerns. As an evangelical in America, I can’t help but wonder who this text is reminding me of. Illegal immigrants maybe? Terrorists? I’m not certain. All I know is that until I start to get a bit angry at what Jesus is trying to teach me here, I probably haven’t figured it out.

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One thought on “The Mischievous, Scandalous Spirit

  1. I found similarly convicting material in a couple quotes about St. Justin Martyr (in the trans. by Leslie William Barnard [New York: Paulist, 1997]). Barnard writes: “A faith [i.e. Christianity] that shunned popular vices and amusements provoked a hatred that took the form of blackening the character of Christians. A faith that forbade its followers to sacrifice to the state deities could be held, it was said, only by a community of atheists capable of any crime.” Of course, Christians aren’t called to be either humorless, anti-amusement fuddy duddies; neither are we called to be “capable of any crime” or otherwise anti-social. Should we, however, be so domestic and harmless and unobtrusive that our religion is so easily accomodated to the society at large that no distinction is perceived between our God and whatever god is invoked in such songs as “God Bless America” and “God Save the Queen”, on Oprah Winfrey and so forth? How should our absense, as well as our presence, be felt by those around us — and felt as conspicuous? I don’t know — but it seems to be worth considering.

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