1 Corinthians 13:1-8 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Luke 4:21-30 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way. ****************************************************************
Jesus has been baptized, affirmed, desert-tested, and has emerged to begin his ministry. So, On the Sabbath Jesus came to the synagogue, “as was his custom.” Assuming his right as an adult Jew, Jesus stands to read, from the prophetic scroll. He receives the scroll of Isaiah –He unrolled the scroll and reads:“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” – rolls it up – hands it back – and sits down.
Jesus takes a long look around the room- he remembers many of the people in this room from his childhood... he knows them; what they think, how they feel, what matters to them... and then he begins to speak: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And he's done! All speak well of him and are amazed at his words of grace. And they say: “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 'Our little paper boy has grown up... isn't he wonderful?
Then Jesus says to the people, "No doubt you will ask, 'Do here also in your hometown what we have heard you have done in Galilee! You could be our new pastor...We know you will be able to do great things here, we need someone who can do miracles- we need you!" And there are a lot of nodding heads and approving whispers...
But, Jesus continues “A prophet is not accepted in its own town.” SO if you are in the crowd, and you were one of the ones who saw this kid grow up, and you put up with him kicing the ball in your yard, or made him hot chocolate once in a while, or gave him a big tip for delivering your paper all those years, you would have to be thinking... 'Seriously? I took care of this kid- I've always accepted him..." And Jesus continues:“But the truth is there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah (many Israelite widows in need), when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also so many lepers in Israel in the time of prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian!” OK so wait a minute...on the one hand he's saying that all is well- Jesus is "proclaiming jubilee- fulfilled right now in this time and space – release, recovery, liberty for the impoverished and oppressed. But the fulfillment is not to Israel only – God would bless all the poor, all captives" 1 and the examples he gave were of your enemies! WHAT? God helped your enemies? Gentiles!? when the people of Israel are in need; Gentiles!? When the Jewish people are in need; Gentiles!? when the Nazarenes are in need? 2 When the Christians are in need? When the members of this church are in need? God is helping our enemies?
Who exactly is our enemy... most of the time we don't like to admit we have them but let's stretch ourselves a bit... who are the people you just can't stand... perhaps those from another country... another faith.... another ethnic group... another political party... who are the ones who have, or who are oppressing you? Many of us have felt margainalized- oppressed- discriminated against- think of the ones who have excluded you, spoken against you... even hurt you and denied you rights... For the people in the congregation that day, Jesus was saying that God is on "their" side... God helps our enemy... the outsider HOW DARE HE!
I'm hopeful you're uncomfortable by now. You see, we live in a world where we are faced with injustice all the time. Many in this very room have been marginalized, or abused, or neglected, or in pain... we've felt what it is to experience the side of the victim, and i say that in all sincerity and with all compassion. And truly, God loves us- and Jesus came for us, and in all of our suffering, Jesus is there for us... What we sometimes do however, is forget that God loves the whole world, that Jesus came for the whole world, that Jesus suffers with the whole world.... even our enemies... even the ones, who while they may be oppressing us, may also be suffering. We don't like to think of our enemies (and yes, I'm going to continue to use the word, enemies) as having any problems at all- after all, WE are the victims here! We are the ones being denied rights, or excluded or abused...
And now you know exactly how the crowd must have felt that day when Jesus told them God was here for the outsider! They were also an oppressed people, with a history of abuse and oppression and denial.... they were marginalized, ostracized and degraded... is it any wonder they got so angry?
So back to the story...“When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of town, and led him to the brow of a hill on which the town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff." In other words, 'You're not welcome here Jesus, you're not spreading that God loves everybody propoganda around here'... but like most angry mobs, they get swept swept away by their own rage... and they don't notice that Jesus has passed through the midst of them, and by the time they are at the top of the hill, they figure it out... they (we) look around and notice... Jesus has slipped through our fingers...and has gone on his way.
When we read the passage this way it's not one of the warm fuzzy passages is it? We don't like it when Jesus says "love your enemies" but you and I both know the this is the crux of his message... that's not new... it's just that now, thinking about the God who also loves THEM... and commands us to love THEM... well... why should we? Why should we love THEM when all they give us is grief and pain? Why should we love when they have an we don't? Why should we love when they continue to hurt the world and the ones we love? Those words from Corinthians we read- have you looked at them in this context?
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Tough words when looked at from the standpoint of loving out enemies... but if we're going to "endure all things" in the name of love, we need some reasons why...WHY we are supposed to love out enemies?
MLK gave a wonderful sermon on Loving our enemies and his words, if you haven't read them in a while, they bear repeating. And if you will indulge your imagination one more time today, picture yourself in the crowd listening to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church Montgomery, Alabama, 17 November 1957. Speaking to a marginalized, oppressed and abused people, King takes time spelling out several reasons why he felt Jesus commanded us to love those who hate us... and then gives his final argument...
"Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, "Love your enemies." It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. That’s why Jesus says, "Love your enemies." Because if you hate your enemies, you have no way to redeem and to transform your enemies. But if you love your enemies, you will discover that at the very root of love is the power of redemption. You just keep loving people and keep loving them, even though they’re mistreating you. Here’s the person who is a neighbor, and this person is doing something wrong to you and all of that. Just keep being friendly to that person. Keep loving them. Don’t do anything to embarrass them. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with bitterness because they’re mad because you love them like that. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies."
King didn't say it would be easy. Jesus didn't say it would be easy... but it is the message and the command that he came to deliver... and while it may make us uncomfortable, and may even make us angry... we can't put it on the back burner... we can't pretend it isn't at the heart of everything Christianity is about... we can't deny it's power, or capture it for ourselves or even try to hurl it off a cliff... because like Jesus... love passes through the midst of us... you can't hold it. Don't let the message and command and opportunity to love slip through our fingers... let it instead work to teach and transform and build us into a people of Love... A people of Love... what would that look like?
1&2- Seasons of the Spirit Fusion Congregational Resource- 2013