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They raged at Jesus' sermon

Luke 4:21-30

Jesus starts well in this visit to his native synagogue. A good Jewish man, Luke tells us he attends the synagogue regularly, and on this occasion, he was invited to read by the local leaders. He chooses a passage from the scroll of Isaiah, and claims that “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

I wonder at this point if the congregation understood what Jesus was saying, as it seems a rather boastful statement. Yet they “all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips”.

Then something changes. Jesus pointedly reminds them that in times of trouble, God was far more likely to rely on the services of Gentiles or to grant them healing. God's grace, says Jesus, comes not to those who think they are righteous but to the unprepared outsider. The implication is that they are not the sole chosen people. Citing the widow of Zerephath and Naaman the Syrian who received the graces of God in the time of Elijah and Elisha, Jesus implies that God is present to all and the kingdom unfolds in the most unexpected, most unpleasant places. This has the effect of enraging them, and they turn on him.

I have often pondered why Jesus needed to say this, when things seemed to be going well. Why raise the fact God regards Gentiles favourably – more favourably even than Jews at various times?

Jesus wants to state some home truths here. Having just announced that he had come to:
proclaim good news to the poor.
freedom for the prisoners
recovery of sight for the blind,
set the oppressed free,
and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

his next words point out exactly what this means. The kingdom of God is not always a comfortable and benign thing to experience. God’s grace and works of justice will upset the status quo, disrupt the comfortable and discombobulate the self-assured. Jesus makes it clear that his ministry is not about keeping them comfortable in the knowledge they are the chosen people, but is a life-changing, all-inclusive confrontation of self-righteousness and injustice. Jesus (like John the Baptist before him) is reminding them that being the chosen people counts for little unless they are actively at work to establish the kingdom of God.

Have we become the comfortable congregation that assumes we are the chosen ones and can sit back on our laurels? Have you considered, as I suggested in Advent, the true implication of praying “your kingdom come, you will be done”?

Being part of the chosen people can have unintended consequences. For example, most of us here have probably been raised to believe that we have right to possess whatever comes to us legally, either through our own work or through legitimate gifts or inheritance. We see wealth and property legally acquired as ours, no matter how abundant that wealth might be. This understanding is embedded in the laws of most Western democratic countries. It has a history of being morally sanctioned by the Church, maybe because the church is a rather large owner of property. We accumulate goods, put fences around our land and hoard our money.

But is this what the kingdom is meant to look like?

In Genesis, it is clear that God made the earth and everything in it for the sake of all human beings. This suggests that all created goods should be distributed fairly to all. Wealth and possessions are ours to steward rather than to possess absolutely, and the common good is always placed above the individual good.

The bible has a recurring message that no person (or nation) should accumulate a surplus if others do not have the basic necessities of life. The ancient Hebrew prophets understood this as an offence to God and called on the people of God to end the exploitation of the poor and vulnerable. In Jesus, God’s bias for the poor found its fullest expression. Jesus states he comes to bring good news to the poor and freedom for the oppressed. He speaks of the kingdom to come as a time in which the human order of life would be reversed: the poor will be rich, the hungry fed, the sorrowful will be filled with joy and the powerful will be the least.

One of the consequences of feeling too comfortable in our faith is that somewhere along the way, we have stop living as if this was the heart of the message that Christianity has to offer. We domesticate Jesus, and reshape him, his ministry and his message to suit our national, corporate or religious agendas. We have tamed the gospel to justify our lifestyles and made it a message with little cost to us. We believe attending church each Sunday is a large part of what makes us Christian. We fail to grasp that we have been part of the development and maintenance of systems and structures which have demeaned the value of life and rewarded the thirst for money and power, structures that have caused the persecution, oppression, and dispossession of millions of people. These structure shave also caused ecological destruction on the planet's biodiversity, its forests, oceans and rivers, and the climate. In recent times we have come to understand that we are facing a number of potentially catastrophic global crises, crises which are consequences of the ongoing violations of human and ecological wellbeing that have been entrenched in our social, political and economic systems.

Instead of tacitly supporting the system, the Church's role should be at edge of society, out in the distasteful places with the widow of Zerephath and Naaman the Syrian. The church’s mission requires us to be constantly asking how we might be good news in our own world. We are called to live out the vision of Jesus for human wholeness, an alternative understanding of what constitutes our current understanding of human economic progress.

Few of us have followed the self-giving, injustice-confronting ways of Jesus as people such as Wilberforce and Martin Luther King Jr. did. But, if we are to live with integrity, and if we are to bring life and joy to others – especially the weak and vulnerable who most need it – we need to embrace these painful aspects of our call to be disciples.

We need to confront injustice and those who propagate it. Such actions will not make us friends and will cause us suffering. But we are not called to be silence, or compliant in the face of that which hurts and destroys. Jesus’ words should confront and disturb us.

In the Assembly statement, An Economy of Life, it states that

The Uniting Church in Australia believes it is called to take a prophetic stand in this world, standing with those who are marginalised and confronting the interests and the powers that perpetrate violence, injustice and oppression. As Jesus challenged the empire of Rome by exposing those who benefited from an unjust system and calling them to a different way of being in the world, so too must we understand who has a stake in maintaining the systems of injustice and violence in our world and how we ourselves might be complicit.

The congregation in the synagogue found it too difficult to face when Jesus held a mirror up to them. The implicit challenge to their status, righteousness and their comfortableness was too much for them to bear, so they sought to destroy Jesus.

What about us? How will we react when Jesus holds the mirror up to us? Can we rise to the challenge of an engaged Christianity that works for a better world? Or will we prefer to throw Jesus – or at least his words - off a cliff?

The fullness of our humanity is not found in wealth but in relationship with each other and the world around us. We need community for our wellbeing. In God's household people should be safe, secure, cared for and valued. The household shares all it has with concern for those most in need. This is a system of cooperation, justice and equity which is characterised by love and marked by generosity. This is the kingdom of God.

 

Elizabeth Raine

Elizabeth is minister at Tuggeranong Uniting, beginning her ministry here in December 2018. 

Over the years, she has had a number of diverse and interesting placements, such as a school chaplaincy, a tenancy worker with UnitingCare, a congregational minister, a lecturer at UTC, a Presbytery minister, and as an Intentional Interim minister. 

Quote for today

...But you know Him, for He lives with you, and will be in you. John14:17

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Wanniassa ACT 2903

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Erindale Centre ACT 2903 

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About Our Church

Our faith community began in 1975 as a small ecumenical gathering of people who settled in the new Canberra township of Tuggeranong. We have grown with the Tuggeranong Community, and our parish centre is the hub for our work, as a place of worship, of gathering, fellowship and ministry.

We come together for authentic and Christ-centred worship. While we worship in a variety of styles, we share a common focus on faithfully listening for God’s Word and sharing His kindness and compassion with others. We express our love for God and others through a range of ministries, and connections with our community.

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