It might be fairly obvious by now that I plan to preach on Paul’s love hymn in 1 Corinthians 13 this Sunday. Still, it doesn’t seem right not to at least touch on the Gospel lesson. Like the Epistle, we’ll hear a continuation of last week’s lesson. Jesus is preaching from Isaiah in his hometown of Nazareth. He offers words of comfort and hope: good news to the poor, release to the captive, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed, and in general, the year of the Lord’s favor.
Needless to say, the crowd gathered is pretty stoked about these words. Life in a backwater town under Roman occupation hasn’t been great. Money is always tight, hunger is never more that a few days away, and the whim of the Pax Romana could change at any moment. The Year of the Lord’s favor, a Jubilee when all was set right, would have sounded like music to the ears of the hard-pressed members of the Synagogue at Nazareth. Luke tells us, the crowd spoke well of him and were amazed at his teaching.
If only he had stopped talking, but Jesus went on to say that this promise wasn’t just for Nazareth. It wasn’t just for God’s chosen people, Israel, but for the whole world. The Gentile Widow at Zarephath? She’s included. Namaan, the ungrateful leper from Syria? He’s in. Jesus tells the crowd that it is God’s desire to restore to right relationship everyone on the face of the earth. This word is too much for the crowd to bear. Their excitement turns to anger in a split second. Their rage takes Jesus to the brow of a cliff. This is the cost of love.
There is nothing we can do that will make God love us less. There is nothing we can do that will make God love us more. As great as these truths are for me, they can be really hard to hear when their meant for someone else. The cost of agape love is that it includes everyone, everywhere. God’s grace that covers me also covers Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton. God’s grace covers Bishops Spong and Duncan. God’s grace covers bankers on a Wall Street and drug dealers on O Block. This reality is too much for many of us to handle. We’d prefer to decide who is in and who isn’t. This vision of God’s love nearly got Jesus killed by people he grew up with, and it is the sort of vision that gets preachers in hot water as well, but it is the reality of God.
In Christ, the Jubilee has begun. The work of setting all things right continues as God’s love overflows upon all of his creation. This work is, as Paul says, a more excellent way, but God knows, it comes at great personal cost. Jesus died because of God’s love. We fight and scratch and claw at oppression, sexism, hunger, racism, and class warfare because we know that God’s love is bigger than we can even imagine. Heck, God even loves a sinner like me.