different congregations

Yesterday, at our lectionary group, we spent a lot of time talking about the differences between the people who heard the law in Nehemiah and those who heard Jesus read the scroll of Isaiah in Nazareth. The former group had found scriptures that had been lost. They were recently restored in their land and eager to find their God and live in his blessing. The received a strict set of laws without complaint, but rather with joy. The latter group was in the Synagogue on the Sabbath, they were pious (or religious, as the case may be) and comfortable. The lectionary, in its infinite wisdom, won’t tell us how they received Jesus’ wide open message of salvation until next week, but I don’t think I’m spoiling it when I say, it doesn’t go well.

Two things are of note in this discussion. The first is how much the (post-)modern American church is like the Synagogue in Nazareth. We are fat and happy and comfortable. If someone came into our buildings and called us to take seriously the call of the Spirit to “proclaim good news to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” especially when that favor is directed at some other group, well it wouldn’t end very well for them either, I don’t imagine. We should be careful when we look down our noses at Jesus’ hometown because, quite frankly, we aren’t that much different.

The second thing with noting in this conversation is that the Good News is shared with both congregations, no matter the result. Ezra doesn’t know how the reading of the law will end, but he reads it anyway. Jesus probably knows how his experience in Nazareth will end, but he tells them his mission anyway. The seed is scattered with reckless abandon, and that, my friends is good news. Even if we think we’re fat and happy, most of us are oppressed by something; addiction, pride, envy, whatever. All of us need the good news of freedom from our oppression. And so, despite the fact that it might take days, weeks, month, or years to really hear it, Jesus enters, opens the scroll and says, “today the Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

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