Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Meditation on This Week's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, January 24, 2010:

First Reading: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

Psalm: Psalm 19

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

Gospel: Luke 4:14-21

It's a shame that the Gospel lesson ends with verse 21. Verse 22 shows a predictable response; the people don't want to believe that something good can come from such humble beginnings. We might say it's the story of Jesus' life--people can't believe that God can work a divine purpose from such a marginal place.

It's a problem that many non-Christians have with the religion; in fact, some scholars might argue it's one of the central problems that many non-believers face. The idea that God would take on human form diminishes God, at least in some people's minds. Some people find it absolutely incomprehensible.

Perhaps some of our fellow Christians find it incomprehensible too. We hear echoes of this disbelief when people talk about Jesus' ministry: "Sure that was fine for Christ, but he was part God." The next part of this sentence is usually one designed to let us off the hook: so, therefore, I don't have to do what Jesus did (feed the hungry, visit the sick, work for the rights of the oppressed); after all, I'm only human.

Jesus was human too, and therefore, anything he did, we could do. In fact, some theologians posit that Jesus came to show us how to live God's vision for us right here on earth, in our own communities. The passage that Jesus reads from Isaiah gives us an idea of what God has in mind for us and our mission in the world: preach good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, set the oppressed free, give the blind their sight.

Interesting to think about church communities and individual Christians. How are we living out Christ's mission? Notice that Jesus doesn't say, "I came to show you how to model your church/synod/denomination according to modern business practices so that you can build up your endowment." Jesus doesn't say, "I came to give you this cool prayer--if you pray it three times a day, you'll get rich." Jesus does not say, "I came so that you might know to meet in a building once a week." Jesus doesn't say, "I came to revamp your worship service with music/media/atmosphere that's more accessible to the modern seeker mentality." Jesus has a very different agenda than the ones that modern people might want him to have.

As we will see in the coming weeks, Jesus focuses on community. Not just once a week, meet for an hour community, but a deep, committed group of people. He works with the people he meets, people like you and me, people who are far from perfect. He works where he is, in a distant outpost of a powerful empire. He doesn't say, "Well, I better move to Rome, because that's where the rich and the powerful people are, and they know how to get things done." He looks around, sees what needs to be done, and does it.

And it's important to realize that he does his work at great risk to himself. Empires realize that their future is threatened by communities that are deeply committed to the vision of God. They'd rather have us spend our hard-earned money (and work ever longer hours to get more money) on cheap junk made by oppressed people on the other side of the planet.

In the first weeks of this new year, it's a good time to think about how we might make this year different. How can we be part of the work that makes the scripture be fulfilled?

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