Agendas in Nazareth, A Sermon on Luke 4:21-30

agenda“What’s your plan for the day?” It’s a question I often ask my wife; usually on the weekend. But sometimes in the evenings after work I’ll say, “What’s your plan for this evening?” They seem like innocent enough questions and often they are. I’m really interested in what she wants to do and what’s going on in her life. Then there are those other times. I ask the question because I already have my own plans, my own agenda, and I’m just trying to figure out when and how what I want to do will be accomplished. Will she participate in and support my agenda? That’s the question behind my question.

When agendas come together amazing things can happen. Relationships deepen. Love flourishes.  Energy and creativity flow. Life is abundant and rich. All is well. When, however, agendas collide conflict arises.

Whether spoken or unspoken we all have our agendas. We have that list of expectations, desires, things we want to do, and ways we want to be. At some level our agendas describe who we are and what we are about. The question is not whether we have agendas, we do. The question is whose agenda guides our life?

I wonder if that’s the question at the heart of today’s gospel. I wonder if colliding agendas is the conflict between Jesus and his own people. I wonder if our own agendas sometimes collide with God’s agenda.

Jesus came to Nazareth, his hometown, with an agenda: good news to the poor, release to the captive, sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. It was the same agenda and prophecy as Isaiah’s. Today, however, would be different. It’s fulfillment was happening right in front of them, in their hearing.

It sounded great. “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” The people loved it. “Is not this Joseph’s son?” They recognize Jesus as one of their own. They know him. He knows them. They remember him when. Hidden within their question, however, is an unspoken expectation, an agenda. “If that’s what he’s going to do for them, just think how much more he’ll do for us.”

The cultural norm and assumption are that Jesus, as the hometown boy, will give deference to his own people. And why not? They gave him his start. They helped make him what he is today. They are the village that raised him as a child. They expect to not just be remembered but to be repaid. It’s no different today. We expect those close to us to support us and to agree with us. We often contribute to political campaigns expecting to be remembered with a favor now and then. We take care of our own before we care for another. After all family, whether by blood, ideology, or economics, has to stick together.

With prophetic insight Jesus unveils their agenda:

“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.”

I can imaging the people asking, “Why is he is telling us about the great things God did for those outsiders, foreigners? What about us? We’re the chosen ones?” It must have sounded as if one of their own had turned on them, as if Jesus had betrayed and rejected them. That’s the kind of talk that gets prophets killed and truth tellers stoned (Lk. 13:34). When they heard Jesus’ words “they were filled with rage.” They ran him out of town and tried to throw him off the cliff. If you don’t like the message, kill the messenger.

Jesus has a vision for his ministry and the people have another, a different vision. The people’s own expectations have deafened them to the fulfillment of the scriptures. They are so caught up in their own agenda they cannot hear, let alone participate in, God’s agenda. What do you think? Does that ever happen in today’s world? In our church? In our own lives? Despite our own agendas, Jesus, as a prophet, is guided by the concerns of God and the scriptural prophecies that came before him. He will not let himself be co-opted by the people of Nazareth.

Don’t think Nazareth is simply a geographical location, a town in Israel. It is a way of being, a way of seeing others, and a way of trying to control God. Anytime we privilege ourselves over another before God, anytime we see our group as more deserving than another of God’s goodness and grace, anytime we feel entitled, to the exclusion of others, of God’s life and love, we are living in Nazareth. Jesus will pass through our midst and go on his way.

Jesus broke the bonds of kinship that day in Nazareth, not as a rejection of the hometown, but as the way of enlarging the hometown. No one would be excluded. No one would receive special favors. No one would be left out. All are the recipients of the prophecy’s fulfillment. That’s not always a popular agenda and it’s not always our agenda, but it is always God’s agenda. It is an agenda of love.

So what’s your plan for the day? That’s not me asking this time. That’s a question God asks each one of us.

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This sermon is based on Luke 4:21-30. The readings for the day, Epiphany 4C, may be found here.

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