“Insiders” And The Spirit Of God
February 3 2019
Jesus saw it coming while it was still about a mile down the road.
“Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here … the things that we heard you did at Capernaum.’” He said.
Jesus quickly saws through the amazement at the “gracious words” that poured forth from Him as He spoke at His “hometown Synagogue” in Nazareth. After all, His “gracious words” were incredibly bold and blunt. Jesus has just read to them from the book of the prophet Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord and has anointed me. The Spirit of the Lord has empowered me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim release from debt and return of land to those forced to sell off acreage so they can eat.
Let’s face it. Jesus has just told them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in me and right here, in your hearing!”
Wow! And Jesus, if no one else, can see that their amazement is quickly going to turn to outrage when the full implication of what He is saying sinks in. And that’s what happens! Jesus’ own people, from his own hometown, perhaps some from his extended family, for all practical purposes reject Him.
In this sermon in his hometown synagogue, Jesus refers to four passages from the Hebrew scripture. One is a passage from Isaiah, in which that prophet receives his call and his mission. Another passage He refers to is about another prophet and hero of Israelite tradition, Elijah, and then He refers to yet another prophet, Elijah’s successor, Elisha. Jesus is speaking to people who regard themselves as “insiders”, a chosen people who have been and can continue to expect to be direct recipients of the Spirit of God, and they are right, as far as they go. But before they can begin to process all this, before these ‘insiders” can fully come to terms with the fact that Jesus has just basically said that He has God’s Spirit on Him, Jesus almost impatiently brushes past their amazement and their desire to bask in whatever privilege might arise from having a prophet come out of their very hometown. He takes this theme from Isaiah and carries it out to a whole new and rather unsettling level.
In effect, Jesus says to them, “Any minute now, you’re going to say, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ You’re already thinking it. You’re going to say, ‘We’ve heard all the hype you brought with you, we’ve heard your gracious words. Now do for us what you supposedly did in all those other places!’”
And then Jesus goes on to tell them, “It’s not about you. The gracious words I just quoted? No, they’re not my gracious words, they are words from our prophet Isaiah. Think about what they say. Any true prophet is anointed, but not to bring more privilege to an already privileged “in-group” of people, but to bring the Spirit of God to those “outside”, in Isaiah’s case ,to those outside the Law: the poor, who simply can’t afford the elaborate rituals and the expensive sacrificial animals; captives imprisoned for various offenses; those born blind; those ground under by blind market forces.”
“Don’t you think there were many widows in Israel during the time of Elijah?” Jesus says. “Yet the Spirit of God drove the prophet Elijah to a desperately poor widow in Zarephath, in Sidon, the country of the Philistines, one of Israel’s traditional enemies. Think about it,” Jesus says, for they knew their history: “The king of Israel at the time of Elijah was one of the most corrupt. Not only that, but he worshiped forces of nature as if they were God. God anointed the prophet Elijah to say to the king, “No rain until you change your way of seeing.” “And then God drives Elijah north, out of Israel, to Zarephath in Sidon. And God calls a poor widow to serve him. The word of God comes to her, through Elijah: “The jar of meal will not be enjoyed and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.” “And these gracious words come true. Throughout the duration of the famine, they have enough.” In the story of Elijah and the widow the poor widow’s son later takes sick and dies, and the woman attributes his death to her sins. But Elijah, by the power of God, the Spirit of God, cures the boy and, incidentally, communicates to her the forgiveness of her sins. Her last words to Elijah before he moves on are: “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”
Yes, “There were plenty of widows in Israel during those harrowing times,” Jesus says. “And yet the Spirit of God went out to this poor widow, whose name is not even given, in Sidon.”
Jesus moves on to the story of Elisha and Naaman “And Naaman,” Jesus says, “did you ever really think about what went on with him? He was the general of the army of what was then called Aram. He was a commander of the army of one of Israel’s deadliest enemies. He had leprosy, an incurable skin disease. A young Israelite girl, a slave taken captive during one of his raids into Israel, directs him to a prophet in Israel. Naaman goes to this prophet, Elisha, Elijah’s successor, also one of Israel’s heroes, and Elisha cures Naaman. He will accept no payment or reward for the cure. The healing power of God, the Spirit of God, goes out for free, even to an enemy, a foreigner.”
“Think about that,” Jesus says to his amazed, soon-to-be murderously outraged hometown audience. “What I am about here is nothing less than the pouring out upon the earth of the Spirit of God. And what I am about here is bigger than you and your little town. What I am about here is bigger than the anointed, chosen, suffering and holy nation of Israel. What I am about here is not singling out and showering with privilege some little “in-group”, or even a larger chosen nation. What I am is nothing less than an explosion of the Spirit of God upon the earth. It’s happening right now, right here before your eyes. And it’s not about you.”
And the congregation’s reaction is sad. They are outraged. They don’t want to hear it. “Who are you? Who do you think you are? Joseph’s son, that’s who you are, just another nobody!” They are unable to recognize Him and what He brought to them. They could not recognize the Spirit of God. They could not see that the Spirit of God is indeed for them as much as for anybody else. They won’t listen to Jesus because He dares to say that the Spirit of God is not just for them. They drive Him from their midst, drive Him to the brow of a hill to throw Him down, to utterly reject Him from among them. But even in their murderous rage they are unable to contain Him. Jesus just shakes the dust from his feet and moves on.
It is frighteningly simple to discern who “we” are in this story, isn’t it? We are Jesus’ audience. We are His hometown crowd. Really, who else could we be? We have been recipients of the word, the message, the Spirit of God. We have experienced the healing power and the saving energy that only Jesus can bring. How else could it be? Is any among us going to claim, literally, to be Jesus, bringing the good news to an ungrateful world? To be sure, some among us might fit into the role of the widow of Zarephath or that of Naaman the Syrian. Perhaps there are some here today who do not, yet, count themselves as Jesus’ followers, but who have heard of his power and his connection to that divine Energy and have come to see for themselves.
But we, most of us, anyway, are that hometown crowd. We are the audience, the hearers of Jesus’ gracious words. What shall our reaction be?
If you really believe that Jesus is the Son of God, you can’t believe that His message and the Spirit of God is for you only, and for those around you who believe exactly as you do. Do you think your believing gives you exclusive rights to the Spirit of God? Do you think your belief, your membership at Edgewood, and your regular attendance give you ownership of the Spirit of God, as if you could summon it up whenever and wherever you want?
Friends, if that’s what you think, you need to think again! There were plenty of believers in Israel when the Spirit of God went out to the widow of Zarephath! There were plenty of believers in Israel when the Spirit of God went out to Naaman the Syrian!
We have not been given exclusive possession of the Spirit of God. We have t been “given” it at all. The Spirit of God is for everyone. Through Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God has been shown to us, and our call is not to keep it for ourselves. Our call is to follow God’s Spirit, and to take it into the world in our words and actions. Amen