June 22, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 4:24-27 (NRSV)
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.”
For context, read all of Luke 4:16-30 here.
This devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
Jesus came to bring salvation to the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed (Luke 4:18). He served those on the margins of his own culture and religion, offering God’s grace to all in need. We who seek to follow Jesus will imitate his example. We will reach beyond our comfort zones, seeing and serving people who are not like part of the “in group.” We will seek to share the love and justice of Jesus with all people.
Last week I began reflecting on Luke 4:16-30. In this passage, Jesus reads from the prophet Isaiah while attending the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. After reading a prophecy about one who is anointed to bring salvation to those who are poor, captive, blind, or oppressed, Jesus announces that this prophecy is being fulfilled in that moment. He is the one about whom Isaiah prophesied.
At first Jesus’s neighbors were impressed. But Jesus, anticipating their desire for him to do the miracles for them that he had done elsewhere, quoted a familiar saying about a prophet not being accepted in the prophet’s hometown (Luke 4:24). Then he brought up examples from two Old Testament prophets, Elijah and Elisha. In both cases, the “insiders” of Israel were in need of God’s help, but the prophets served “outsiders.” Elijah served a Gentile widow (1 Kings 17:8-24). Elisha healed a Gentile leper (2 Kings 5:1-19). Not only were those served by the prophets non-Jews, and thus considered to be outside the scope of God’s concern, but also they were people of particularly low status (widow, leper).
Jesus’s neighbors were “filled with rage” when they heard what Jesus said (Luke 4:28). Why were they so angry? In part, they were upset because Jesus declined to do for them what he had done for others. They expected better of their hometown hero. But what seemed to enrage them most of all was the implication of Jesus’s Old Testament examples. Rather than performing miracles for those on the theological and cultural inside, Jesus would be reaching out to the margins. He would serve the kind of people that the good citizens of Nazareth despised and tried to avoid.
We who seek to follow Jesus today are challenged to follow his example. It is natural for us to serve those who are like us. We’re inclined to care for the people who live near us, look like us, vote like us, talk like us, and live like us. We prefer to hang out with these folks, to share our lives with them, and to go to church with them. It can be uncomfortable to reach out to people who aren’t like us, especially when their differentness puts them on the margins of our communities. We struggle to serve someone whose differentness we particularly disparage. Yet Jesus calls us to press through our discomfort, to see those we would easily overlook, to open our hearts to all who need the love and justice of God.
Can you understand the feelings of the folks from Nazareth? In what ways might you be like them?
Who are the people you find particularly difficult to love? Are you open to God changing your heart toward these people?
Take some time to pray about how you might reach out with God’s love to people on the margins of your particular community. Follow the lead of the Holy Spirit in tangible ways.
Lord Jesus, thank you for coming to save us. Thank you for your love for all people. Thank you for challenging us to love beyond our comfort zones. Help us, we pray, to share your grace with those on the margins, even those whom we dislike or disparage. Give us your heart of love for all people. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: God Judges Exploitation and Marginalization (Isaiah 3ff.)