Three weeks ago, we listened to the account of the wedding feast in Cana where Jesus turned water into wine. That was the first day of his public ministry according to the Gospel of John. Today we’re going to reflect on the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel of Luke. The two are very different. John structured his gospel around the manifestation of seven signs, miracles, that proclaimed the arrival kingdom of God. Changing water into wine was the first of those signs. John ends the passage by writing, “and his disciples began to believe in him.” The phenomenon of the kingdom had begun.
Luke brings us to Nazareth to witness one of the first days of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus had been baptized by John in the Jordan River and immediately retreated into the Judean desert for forty days where he prepared for his ministry and battled with the powers of darkness. “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit. He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all.” Then, he came to his hometown synagogue.
He was asked to read the scripture and was handed a scroll of the Prophet Isaiah. “He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
This is a very well-known and important passage from the prophet. It’s the description of the Messiah. Jesus’ initial commentary was very simple. “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, he told them that he was the Messiah.
The congregation reacted in a variety of ways. Everyone spoke highly of him, but some wondered how Jesus had gotten the wisdom he exhibited. He hadn’t gone to rabbinical school; he was a craftsman. Jesus addressed their skepticism and lack of faith in him by pointing out two examples of God favoring Gentiles over Jews because they had more faith.
There was a terrible drought and food was very short. The prophet Elijah responded to the generosity of a widow in Gentile Zarephath who gave him the last
bit of food she had for herself and her son with no hope of replenishing it. Miraculously, her little jar of oil and her bowl of flour never emptied until the drought passed.
A Syrian general, Naaman, a Gentile, had leprosy. His Jewish slave told him about the power of the prophet Elisha. He believed what his slave told him and traveled to Judea. He had faith that the God of Elisha could cure him, and so he was cured.
These two examples of Gentiles with faith infuriated the people in the synagogue. Jesus was telling them that these two Gentiles had more faith than they had. Naaman and the widow weren’t members of the chosen people, but their faith was greater than the faith of the people of Nazareth. The hometown boy had the gall to call them on their faith. They couldn’t accept his teaching that he was the Messiah. He was common. He was one of them. They became blind with rage and attempted to kill him.
What kind of message can be gleaned from this moment in Jesus’ life? I believe that God is constantly reaching out to us but, more times than not, we don’t stretch out our arms to connect. Sometimes we’re so consumed by our daily tasks that we miss the subtle ways God is present. Sometimes we’re so self-reliant that we don’t accept God’s help. Sometimes God is standing right in front of us but we don’t see.
Look for God. Look everywhere. Look in the faces of children. Look into the eyes of a homeless person. Look up to the sky. Look at the shapes of the clouds. Look at the brightness of the moon on a clear night. Look at the people you love, really look at them, see their hearts. God’s everywhere. We just have to have the faith to see.