Luke 4: 23-30
Intro — Thomas Jefferson believed, “When angry, count to ten; when very angry, count to 100.” Anger comes in many forms. Listen to this classified ad: “Wedding dress for sale, never worn. Will trade for .38 pistol.”
Jesus, whether He intended to or not, shook up His world during the three years of His ministry. He said things that were very unconventional. Here in our text, He begins his ministry by unsettling — yes, making angry — His audience. They didn’t count to ten.
After reading from Isaiah, he claims those credentials as His own. Notice that they are all in the area of social concern. These are still the credentials of the people of God. If we are God’s people, we must be concerned about the physical, social and temporal needs of our world and community. Jesus seems to anticipate the question about His credentials, and uses the phrase, “Physician, heal thyself.” This is not unlike the phrase we have, “Charity begins at home.”
They had seen the things He had done in Capernaum, and now they expected Him to do these things here at home. If He is interested in the welfare of others, then His concern must start at home.
It’s only when we serve others in the name of Christ that we have the credentials to be called by His name; when the Spirit of God is upon us, these are our credentials.
Jesus is telling His audience that salvation is here and now. Christians sometimes get accused, rightfully, that we live for our pie in the sky by and by when we die, and aren’t much good until then. But now is all we have. We can’t change the past, and the future on earth is not guaranteed.
Jesus talked about God in the present, and that is uncomfortable. It’s much easier to talk about the past and marvel at what God has done. It’s easier to talk about what God is going to do in the future when Christ comes back for His church and everything is made right. Prophecy and church history and theology are safe. It is much riskier to open your heart today and ask, “Lord, what would you have me do today that would benefit someone you love?”
That plunges us into the now, which is the dimension Jesus mentions here. If there is no God here and now, then there is no God. If we only have the God of history and prophecy, then we have no God at all. Jesus said, “Today the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Martin Luther King Jr. is now greatly revered in almost every segment of our society, but while living, he had many critics, and sometimes rightfully so. He had feet of clay. Now that he’s dead, we credit him with ushering in a new era of social justice. He’s the only black American, nay, the only American, in fact, the only person at all to have a national holiday named after him. Why? Because many Americans recognized, years after he died, that here was a man calling all of us to recognize the same things that the OT prophets called their people to: Social justice.
God is still concerned about the same things that concerned Him then: oppression of the poor; abuse of the underprivileged; unfairness in the courts; law enforcement on the take.
Jesus and Martin Luther King Jr. have at least two things in common in their ministry: they challenged the social structures of their day; and they both met with hostile resistance.
Notice what Jesus did. He told the Jews that day about some of the times that God passed over His own people and blessed the Gentiles — Zeraphath the widow, and Naaman the leper — who needed His help. The implication was that they would be judged in like manner for rejecting Him.
The good news is that the life God offers us in Jesus Christ is here and now and calls for a response. His own people didn’t want to hear about social justice in the kingdom. Are we any better? Right doctrine is good. Faithfulness to the church is good. Caring for the social and physical needs of others is good. We must include it in our agenda. It was important to Jesus. It must be important to us.
Because here and now is all we have.
Rev. Tim Secrist is pastor of the Little Dove Church of Christ near Lenore and a member of the Logan Ministerial Association. He can be reached by email at [email protected]