Hebrew Scripture: Jeremiah 1:4-10
Epistle Reading: Corinthians 13:1-13
Gospel Reading: Luke 4:21-30
Let us pray:
Holy God, you have given us these scriptures to teach and transform us. May it be that we hear and see what you would have us do and be. Amen.
Today we will take a look at Paul’s letter to the Corinthians in conversation with Luke’s gospel first; then I’d like to examine the third sign found in the Gospel of John. We may just find some interesting connections.
Paul’s letter isn’t all feel-good and weddings. He is writing to lift up what the Corinthian congregation is struggling with. The first three verses illuminate the qualities of essential love. The next four illustrate effective loving. The last six move to examine eternal love. All three are needed when keeping in mind the question “What is most loving?” Our calling to express God’s sovereign love for all can be challenging. Love at all times in relationship with one another, with others from outside our comfort zones, and when representing the kingdom of God? When do we get a break? Sometimes I want to wallow in anger and lash out…but that isn’t loving. I know I fall short; and I imagine others do, too. But thanks be to God! When we turn back in repentance, we are forgiven in Christ Jesus and empowered with the grace to try again. That is what Paul is admonishing the Corinthians to do; put aside their unloving quarrels and embrace what loving relationships should be as God’s kingdom people.
Comparing this passage on love to the real-life situation Luke describes in today’s passage reveals some interesting revelations. Here, Jesus is in his hometown, and something happens that tips his own people against him. One would think he’d be surrounded by his loving community. What happens? Is love reflected in this story? On the surface and in the beginning it looks like it. They are well impressed with how Jesus speaks and interprets scripture. But then Jesus does something odd – in what seems like a very unloving denunciation, he steps on some toes with reference to “others” outside his Jewish tribe who receive real tangible expressions of God’s love and shelter, favor and acceptance. Their reaction is incredible anger – such that they intend to mob Jesus to death by throwing him off the cliff of his hometown. Then Luke reports in verse 30, “But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.”
I would like to depart from accepted scholarship at this point and engage in a little bit of midrash – which I will define, somewhat inaccurately, as creative imagination to fill in what happens that we do not see between the lines of text. I wonder what the phrase “he passed through the midst of them” means. What exactly happened here? A mob is about to throw Jesus off the cliff in hatred because he teaches that God’s love extends beyond their little tribe to the rest of humanity. How did he pass through them and escape? I wonder, did he simply become invisible and slip into the crowd? Or, did he stand his ground with eyes as clear as the heavens in nonviolent passive resistance until even the leaders had to turn away in shame before the deed was done as they finally understood that God is bigger than they are, that God’s love is not just for them but for all people – perhaps even those who are enemies? Is THAT how Jesus passed through them and went on his way? Because they finally saw the Truth? Can we even begin to understand the process the crowd went throuh? What Jesus might have been thinking?
Actually, we can. The following illustration is going to make some of us uncomfortable; please reserve judgment as the point of this is to allow a further understanding of the scriptural context for Luke’s story.
Consider our current political situation. There is a wall going up between the United State and Mexico. Not the US and Canada – just the US and Mexico. Why? They look different. Canadians appear much like we do, therefore they are considered part of our “tribe” – that is, an overall demographic consisting of light-skinned, Caucasian northern Europeans. Latin American peoples do not look like members of our tribe. They are slightly darker in color, overall stockier and come from a combination of diverse climates very unlike our historical origins were used to – and thus, environmentally socialized perspectives foreign to Northern European sensibilities. I would argue what we are witnessing today is a case of tribal racism, similar to that of the Jews against the non-Jews, that is, Gentiles like us, of Jesus’ dy. This tribal racism against our Southern neighbors is simply a perpetuation of an earlier more insidious one that is also still in place in our society today. It is no longer politically correct to dispense the same tribal racism against African Americans (and their subsequent descendants) who were the first targets our Northern European nationalistic tendencies ostracized, demonized, and oppressed into forced slavery; but apparently it is politically correct to ostracize Latin Americans – at least right now. I am here to tell you this is anathema.
Why do I bring this up? The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. recognized what a kingdom of God ethic of love was supposed to look like. He was a prophet and a preacher, speaking truth to the white heterogeneous power structure that controlled the helm of this nation of supposed freedom – and still does. He spoke his truth to power because the dream of freedom for all came straight from the scriptures, from the God-breathed realm of the Spirit, and the country of his times did not want to hear it. The argument could be made that the country of our times still doesn’t want to hear it.
Prejudice grips with a Rottweiler’s strength, digging its jaws into anything that challenges the hubris of the status quo. But I declare to you this tribal racism is not of God. As Jesus teaches today in Luke, God’s vision is universal love for all that is Created, all people, whether or not they are in our tribe or members of another. It behooves us to recognize that in effect, all humanity, all earthlings, even, belong to God – therefore, we are brothers and sisters in the same family, the same tribe.
In which case, we have a long way to go to heal the breach between the diverse branches of the human tribe, not to mention the relationship we have with all other earthlings – all of which, I might add, are fellow created beings upon this good green earth that God has made; lived for, died for, and constantly renews with an everlasting resurrection spirit.
Which brings me to John’s gospel and the third sign. The story in John 5:1-18 is a healing story. The Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem, is a holy site, known for being a place God stirs the water and heals those who gather about it. Jesus goes there and sees the man who has been crippled for 38 years.
Now, let me pause here and ask you to reflect on what cripples us. Here are some points to further reflect on: Recall that John’s gospel is multi-layered? In this passage, Jesus not only heals the physical, John’s Gospel re-writes the mythology of this holy site, this pool of healing, to center it upon Jesus! It is no longer the pool or the stirring of the waters that heals those gathered about it, Jesus is the source of healing, HE is the One who heals that which cripples. Jesus is the almighty source of all that brings wholeness. Jesus, God incarnate in the world, brought to us to heal that which cripples all of us.
What does that say to the issue of tribalism? What does that say to the political situation on our southern border? What does that say to you, personally, as you embark upon the journey of making God’s kingdom a reality in all you do, in all you vote for, in all you espouse by your way of life on this good green earth that God has made and provided for us? Those are questions you must answer for yourself.
May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
 Jeffery Jones, “Homiletical Perspective, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13” in Feasting on the Word – Year C, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0
Questions for Reflection
In Jesus’ first sermon, he referred to two scriptural stories to illustrate God’s love. Why did that so enrage the congregation that they wanted to kill him? Do some of Jesus’ teachings still enrage us today?
Household Prayer: Morning
God, you have given me the gift of another day; may I live it in gratitude. Help me to be loving to others, to Earth, and to myself; in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
Holy One, this day is drawing to an end. Be with me as I pause and ponder all the love I saw and received today. Help me to see you in each moment of love. Where I fell short of being patient and kind, help me to feel your patience and kindness toward me, and give me peace, as I give this day back to you. Amen.