Rejecting Grace   Leave a comment

Above:  Nazareth, 1875

Image Publisher = L. Prang and Company

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-pga-14154

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For the Sunday Next Before Advent, Year 1

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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Absolve, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy people from their offenses;

that from the bonds of our sins which, by reason of our frailty,

we have brought upon us, we may be delivered by thy bountiful goodness;

through Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with

thee and the Holy Spirit, ever One God, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 236

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Haggai 2:1-9

Psalms 149 and 150

Revelation 21:1-7

Luke 4:16-24

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The glory of God is a major topic in the Bible.  Many of the Psalms deal with that subject.  Prophecies of the Day of the Lord/Parousia in both Testaments employ poetic imagery to describe the world order once the fully-realized Kingdom of God becomes reality on the planet.  Regardless of the full reality at which human poetry can only hint and imagination can never fully grasp, such descriptions do have an immediate function.  They cast the world as it is in a negative light, exposing how far short societies, institutions, norms, and governments fall, relative to divine standards.  The apocalyptic imagination is a moral and ethical imagination.

The Gospels contain two accounts of Christ’s rejection at Nazareth.  They are plainly two very similar yet slightly different versions of the same event.  The key difference from one account to the other is when the audience turns against Jesus.  In Matthew 13:54-58, it happens when Jesus speaks wisdom.  In that account, people respond by asking,

Where does he get this wisdom from, and these miraculous powers?  Is he not the carpenter’s son?  Is not his mother called Mary, his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas?  And are not all his sisters here with us?  Where then has he got all this from?

–Matthew 13:54-56, The New English Bible (1970)

In Luke 4:16-24, however, the turn toward hostility comes later, after verses 25-27.  Those verses are about God having mercy on Gentiles, including Naaman (2 Kings 5:1-27) and the widow at Zarephath (1 Kings 17:9-24).  Given that the original audience for the Gospel of Luke was Gentile, telling the story of the rejection of Jesus in his hometown this way makes sense.

The Lukan version of the rejection at Nazareth also challenges us to confront our provincialism.  I am a Gentile, so I like reading about divine graciousness to Gentiles.  Nevertheless, to be uncomfortably honest, I must admit that the reminder of divine generosity to certain people and populations can and sometimes does offend me.  You may resemble that remark, O reader.  If you do, you are not unusual.

All of us need reminders of how far short of divine standards we fall.  We may tell ourselves how kind and loving we are.  We may even be kind and loving.  Nevertheless, all of us can be kinder and more loving.  When God shows us how far short of that divine standard we fall, do we reject the message?  Or do we confess our sin, repent, and strive, by grace, to do better?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 3, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF CAROLINE CHISHOLM, ENGLISH HUMANITARIAN AND SOCIAL REFORMER

THE FEAST OF ELIAS BOUDINOT, IV, U.S. STATESMAN, PHILANTHROPIST, AND WITNESS FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIE-LÉONIE PARADIS, FOUNDRESS OF THE LITTLE SISTERS OF THE HOLY FAMILY

THE FEAST OF SAINTS MAURA AND TIMOTHY OF ANTINOE, MARTYRS, 286

THE FEAST OF SAINT TOMASSO ACERBIS, CAPUCHIN FRIAR

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