Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C
30 January 2022
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Luke 4:(14-20) 21-30
I often listen to the radio when I drive. I remember a segment on a show where somewhat ordinary people were asked their opinion on a few topics. It must have been at the beginning of the vaccine roll out because the question I remember was whether the Canadian government had any kind of responsibility to share COVID-19 vaccines with other, less developed nations.
I think there was agreement among the two respondents but it is the lawyer’s answer I remember. She stated that Canadian politicians were elected by the Canadian electorate to govern Canada. Now, in theory that is the correct answer, as long as we assume we are an island, self-sufficient, and unaffected by what happens in the rest of the world. And it was an answer that was likely driven by the deep longing for the pandemic to be over. Hard to imagine this was almost a year ago. But we know that what happens elsewhere affects us too. New variants, wherever they develop, will eventually arrive on our shores.
The same is true for pollution. The effects of pollution and greenhouse gases are shared by the global community, and any attempt at a solution needs to be mindful of that.
But we think that way, us and ours first, then the rest. This is how we handle foreign aid, immigration, and pretty much anything. And one of the challenges of encouraging people to gift part of their estate in their will to a charity has to do with our inclination to think of our own first, even if they have enough.
I know a family that when they spend money on themselves, beyond their regular living expenses, they make a gift equal in size to a charity. They did that when they had their deck rebuilt. I am not sure what their kids thought of it – although, it is what they grew up with – and I admire that, because it remembers that we do not live for ourselves.
In our Gospel reading from Luke 4, Jesus has just finished reading from Isaiah 61. While the temple was in Jerusalem and it was customary to visit once a year, the synagogue was the place of religious and cultural life in the community. Anyone could read the scriptures and would be expected to comment on them, as was Jesus on whom all eyes were fixed after he had read from the scroll, “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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
And as they anticipate his response to the proclamation from Isaiah, he says, “Today this has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Now, if you remember that this story does not end well, that people are outraged, drive Jesus toward a cliff in order to hurl him off, Jesus’ interpretation may not yet explain their response.
Certainly, Jesus makes a messianic claim when he says that the Spirit of the Lord is upon him and that today these promises have found their fulfilment in him (though I am not sure the crowd has quite grasped this all yet). But if you follow the reading to the end, you will notice when it is that people get upset.
Jesus seems to sense what they desire and responds briskly, “I suppose you’re going to quote the proverb, ‘Doctor, go heal yourself. Do here in your hometown what we heard you did in Capernaum.’ Well, let me tell you something: No prophet is ever welcomed in his hometown.”
The hometown crowd expect a special privilege as their boy comes home. Do something for us, show your power here. They have expectations that Jesus is not willing to fulfill.
And while in Luke chronology isn’t so important (because Jesus hasn’t actually been to Capernaum yet), Capernaum matters because Capernaum was said to have a large gentile population. The people did not want Jesus to throw his pearls before swine, they wanted to be the beneficiaries.
And when Jesus answers, we see that the program he proclaims through the words of Isaiah, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the Jubilee, the year of the Lord’s favour, isn’t his only announcement, but he is also making clear that his mission is wider than Nazareth, and wider than Israel, though he is a Jew and his mission included the people God called first. This is not against the people, for the story of Jonah tells nothing other than that God has mercy even on our enemies and Israel is called to be a light unto the peoples.
And to make sure they don’t miss this point he reminds them of the time when there was a famine in Israel and Elijah was sent to a foreigner, or of the time when the Syrian general Naaman came to Elisha and though there were many lepers then, it was the foreigner who was healed.
It is because Jesus renounces the privilege they claim that they want to hurl him off a cliff.
I think that if we want to learn from this story it means that there is no ‘us and them’, there is only us. It means that God loves the whole world, and that the whole world is connected. And it means that what we do to the least of these we do unto him. And of course, this includes the sharing of vaccines and includes how we address climate change.
There is much talk about privilege these days. And it is true, most of us are very privileged. It doesn’t matter whether we have worked and work hard or not. We are privileged in many ways, because we are where we are, because many of us do not face the challenges many minorities face, because we have been supported by others, and have benefited from economic circumstance.
Seeing our privilege and naming it will help us in the work of reconciliation with First Nations, and in the work of reconciliation in general. We need not afraid to name the things that make us privileged, or to name that we did not get to where we are on our own. We will not fall into some abyss, rather we will live more fully, because our calling is not to privilege but our calling is to service.
And yet, while Jesus does turn our world upside down, Jesus did not come to renounce one privilege and establish another. Our talk of privilege is not about abolishing one power structure and creating another. Rather, it is about sharing, power, and all else, because we live in a world that is inter-connected, and we live in a world that is the Lord’s, with all that is in it.