When Jesus read the scroll of Isaiah in his hometown of Nazareth, the people listened attentively. When he claimed that he was the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy, they were amazed and questioned how it could be, but they were still open to Jesus’ message. It was only when Jesus began to challenge their sense of entitlement, and when he pointed out God’s concern for outsiders, that they got murderously angry. The radical inclusivity of Jesus was scandalous and offensive to these people. They wanted to believe that they were “in” with God, and that meant there had to be others who were “out”. But, when Jesus suggested that outsiders were really the true insiders, they refused to let go of their stereotypes, their sense of privilege, and their need for exclusivity.
It’s tragic when God’s people are more like the people of Nazareth than Jesus. We love to talk about Jesus the Messiah, and to hear how God’s Reign has come to us. But, sometimes, when we are challenged by the Gospel to welcome those whom we believe are “sinners” or “outside” of God’s “chosen ones,” we may prefer to attack the messenger rather than do the difficult work of opening our hearts. We all have those we struggle to love. We all have those whom we believe are undeserving of God’s grace. But if God’s favor could be earned – even by praying a “sinner’s” prayer – it wouldn’t be grace. The challenge of the Gospel is the way it calls us constantly to expand our welcome until all people discover that they are actually “in” with God.
Reflection: When we read the story of how Jesus was rejected in Nazareth, we can’t miss the fact that Jesus brought the anger on himself. As the people wondered how one of their neighbors could possibly be the Messiah, Jesus changed the agenda. It’s like he went out of his way to be confrontational and argumentative. He declared God’s acceptance of outcasts apparently knowing that the reaction would be negative.
But, consider the cost to Jesus’ mission and integrity had he not confronted the people. If he had stayed away from these controversial topics those who heard about his inclusive behavior later would have felt betrayed. They would have felt that he was inconsistent and changed his tune depending on whom he was with. Also, imagine how it would have felt for the outcasts when they heard that yet another religious leader had sold out to the status quo, and had written them off as undeserving of God’s attention. Jesus was confrontational, but his integrity and mission, required it. Are there any confrontations that you’ve been avoiding? Are there any issues on which you need to take a stand? How can you embrace the inclusive mission of Jesus more strongly today?
Practice for Today: It can be disturbing to see how confrontational the New Testament disciples could be. They confronted the religious leaders of their day, they confronted each other, and they confronted themselves with the Gospel challenge. Sometimes the most powerful witness is when we refuse to stay silent in the face of injustice. Can you try a little “Gospel confrontation” today?
Prayer for Today: Teach me, O God, to stand strong for the values of your Reign
Communion with God