"Jesus said, “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." -Luke 4: 21-28
It’s almost impossible in the political climate we live in to avoid the topic of how our faith connects with those living among us as immigrants. Even a cursory reading of scripture reminds us that this isn’t something peripheral to living the Christian life.
In the fourth chapter of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus returns to his hometown where he angers his neighbors by envisioning God’s presence in the world that exists beyond his old neighborhood. Instead of declaring that they are God’s special people, he reminds them of foreigners whom God has lifted up. There’s a poor widow from Zarephath; a Syro-Phoenician woman whom God fed in the midst of famine by replenishing her oil and flour. There’s Naaman, the Syrian military officer, who was cured of leprosy through the intervention of the prophet Elisha. To the people of Jesus’ hometown, these are the kinds of people who should be excluded, not lifted up as those worthy of God’s care.
We can perhaps imagine the gears starting to turn in the heads of those who are listening to Jesus, and sense their growing suspicion as he quotes a prophetic voice they’ve pushed aside as being inconvenient. That skepticism turns to bitterness, rage and violence.
They’re enraged because Jesus is quoting scripture to jump-start a conversation about where God chooses to be active in this world; a conversation about who is worthy of God’s love. According to Jesus, God is found ‘out there,’ among ‘those’ people; just as surely as God is found ‘in here,’ among the faithful.
Jesus is reminding us that God is both present and active outside the walls we construct in the vain hope of keeping ourselves safe from the unknown. When we begin to see that God’s love for this world extends beyond our own cultural mores and traditions, it can’t help but to confront that part of us that clings to our sense of privilege.
But Jesus’ words come with a promise: Because we have been baptized into Christ, and because Christ was raised from the dead, we are therefore set free from our brokenness and invited to respond by loving every human being as we are loved.
The time of God’s favor that Jesus announced is still being fulfilled in our hearing along the North Shore. It’s still being fulfilled ‘out there’ as well; in a world desperate to hear the joyful news that Jesus is risen, and that all are invited to share in his resurrection life.
That’s the Good News, folks. That’s the gospel that we are called to share here in our own community and wherever our hands can be used and our voices can be heard.
I ran across a poem recently titled "Escaping From the Boxes" that speaks eloquently to our calling to share the promise of resurrection with those whom this world teaches us to push to the side. It begins like this: "There you go again, God, moving to the margins, taking love to the outcast and the alien, breaking through the barriers we’ve constructed from our prejudice; a light that shines into the world’s dark corners, unfettered by our selfishness, unhindered by our blindness. There you go, defying our expectations, always surprising us with the wideness of your grace."
"On Faith" is a weekly column in the News-Chronicle written by area religious leaders.