When I read today’s Gospel, I am moved by the mission statement of Jesus. Too bad the church didn’t include the rest of the complete story of his visit to his hometown, which gives us the larger context for today’s passage.
The Jews anticipated a Messiah who would exclusively lead them and protect them. After all, they were God’s chosen people, weren’t they? The little community of Jews in Nazareth were fine if Jesus wanted to take care of the marginalized poor, the captive, the blind and the oppressed Jews, because each of them in that synagogue that day no doubt personally knew a friend, relative or neighbor who was barely getting by, or had been in prison for something the Romans considered worthy of jail time or was blind or taken advantage of by tax collectors or the military police assigned to keep any dissidents in check. These small town Jews spoke highly of Jesus for helping their own and were “amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.”
But I encourage you to open Luke’s Gospel and read beyond this section to learn how the visit to the old neighborhood turns out. Jesus goes on to make clear to his audience of fellow Jews that he wasn’t limiting his life’s work to them. He was going to everyone on the margins, even the enemies of the Jews. It was like telling Americans to embrace and forgive the followers of Osama bin Laden, Charles Mason and Vladimir Putin in one fell swoop! Understandably Jesus’ words make his hometown friends furious and he nearly loses his life as they run him out of town.
What Jesus did that day was to usher in a whole new way of thinking about God’s love and a drastically different understanding of who are God’s chosen people. The Jewish leaders, as well as the common Jews in the synagogue’s pews, wanted no part of it.
The all-inclusive love of God for us humans is just that, all inclusive. There are no chosen people and the United States is not a favored nation, destined by God to be a shining beacon of democracy, no matter what myths the promoters of patriotism tell us.
As we watch our world continue on its deadly path of hate, division and blame, it is evident the radical message of Jesus to that little congregation is just as radical today.
When we disparage anyone in thought, word or deed, when we seek out our own kind and create a we vs they family, neighborhood, town, city, nation or world, we are not following Jesus.
When we hold a grudge or fail to listen, fail to ask questions and rush to judgement about anyone, we fail to follow Jesus.
When we deliberately say, “they got what they deserved,” or “it’s their own fault,” we cast another human in a devalued position, whether referring to a beggar on the street, a refugee at the border, a single mother of five living in a crime ridden neighborhood, a drug addict in a blanket under the underpass, an executed dictator, a murderer on death row or a pedophile who commits suicide in prison.
The first reading today, from John’s first letter, is pretty blunt: “Whoever loves God must also love his/her brother/sister.” No exceptions.
Jesus’ prophetic mission statement in the synagogue is our mission statement, for we are His body in our moment in history. Living it could put our lives at risk, as it did his life.
Are you ready to open your mind and heart to be as inclusive as he was, and pay the price for doing so? Let’s pray today for the grace we need to live our radical mission.
Jim Wayne is a board member of the Passionist Solidarity Network (PSN), and author of The Unfinished Man. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky.