I am searching the texts for the fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time/ Epiphany for a thread– a single idea or force that binds them together. I can pair them in various ways…
- The call of the young prophet Jeremiah seems a natural companion for the Gospel lesson detailing early days in Jesus’ ministry, including his first sermon in his hometown Nazareth.
- We could place Jesus’ experience of being run out of town (and threatened with being thrown from a cliff) side by side with the plaintive Psalm, calling out to God for rescue and deliverance.
- What is arguably the most famous passage from Paul’s writings, the Love chapter from 1 Corinthians, speaks to Jeremiah, both having red herring language about the importance of eloquent speech (which turns out not to be the primary concern after all).
Perhaps this is the thread: All the readings have an implied intimacy, which can work for good or for ill. God calls Jeremiah into service with tender words: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…” (1:5); “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you…” (1:8). Jeremiah protests that he is too young. but God touches his mouth. Is it a gentle gesture, a mother reassuring her child that it will be alright? Or is it of the burning coal-to-the-lips variety? Jeremiah’s accepts God’s call.
The psalmist calls on God for rescue as a child might call upon a trusted parent; after all, “Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you” (71:6).
Paul’s words to a community in conflict boil down love/ agape to the simplest of behaviors and attitudes: patience and kindness, the fundamental stances undergirding all his other descriptors.
There is no fight as bad as a family fight, and that seems to be what brews in the gospel reading (after such a promising beginning, with all “speaking well” of Jesus, and the “gracious words that came from his mouth”). Jesus warns that prophets are not, in fact, generally able to go home again, and he points out some instances in which prophets healed those outside the Abrahamic covenant.
If preaching the Nazareth synagogue story (unique to Luke’s gospel), preachers will want to steer clear of anti-Jewish readings of the text. In the Jewish Annotated New Testament, Amy-Jill Levine advises that what distresses the congregation is not that those outside the covenant are included in God’s plan, but what feels like Jesus’ (pre-emptive?) rejection of them:
Jews in general had positive relations with the Gentiles, as witnessed by the Court of the Gentiles in the Jerusalem Temple, Gentiles as patrons of synagogues (Lk. 7:1-10), and Gentiles as god-fearers (Acts 10). They also expected the redemption of righteous Gentiles, who would come streaming to Zion, as Zech 8:23 states… The rejection of Jesus is not prompted by xenophobia; it is prompted by Jesus’ refusal to provide his hometown with messianic blessings. (p. 107)
Where are you with this rich array of texts?
Will you speak of Jeremiah’s call and ours, and God’s promises to equip and accompany?
Will you abide with the psalmist in what is surely an hour of need?
Will you unpack Paul’s glorious poetry, timeless wisdom for that congregation in conflict?
Will you go with Jesus to the brow of the hill, and follow as he walks resolutely through the angry crowd?
I look forward to your wisdom in the comments. Blessings upon your study and your proclamation.
Rev. Patricia Raube is a Presbyterian pastor in the Southern Tier of New York. She blogs (sporadically) at A Swimmer in the Fount.
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