21 Then [Jesus] began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, “Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’ ” 24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
My Uncle Bill, who is also my Godfather, used to teach community courses on the History of Boston at Boston College. One time when I was in Boston for something, I contacted him to see if we could get together for dinner. He told me his class was going to tour the Old North Church the next day; the church made famous in Longfellow’s classic poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride.”
Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,–
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.” . . .
My uncle invited me to join his class and tour the Old North Church. I readily agreed and met him there the next day. Even though the poem is historically inaccurate, the signal from the bell tower of the British march is true. We all followed my uncle on the tour, heard him describe the history of the church building including the famous bell tower. The church is very old and preserved, so on these tours you really can’t go running around the building. You can look, but you can’t go past the velvet ropes that separate the public from the private areas. But it was quite interesting.
After it was over, I was ready to leave and thanked my uncle , but he pulled me aside. He says, “Do you want to go up into the tower?” “Really?” “Sure,” he says. After all his students had left, he pulls the velvet rope aside and invites me to go ahead on up. “Just be careful, the steps get steep, narrow, and a little rickety at the top.”
So up I go. With special permission because my uncle taught this class at B.C., I had the exclusive privilege of climbing up the bell tower of the Old North Church. I got to see the place where those two lanterns were hung. Plus I got to climb up into the pulpit and go down into the vaults underneath the church.
Special privilege! It’s all about who you know! That’s how you get the special stuff, by knowing people with clout and influence.
And so here are the people back in Jesus’ home church who really know him. He’s working miracles all over Galilee and now he’s come back to where he grew up. We’re the people that baby sat him. We’re the people that coached his little league team. We’re the people that gave him piano lessons. We’re the people that taught him in Sunday School. If he’s dazzling people in other towns with miracles and cures and powerful teaching where people don’t even know him, what’s he gonna do here for us?
With high expectations, they come to see what their hometown boy can do. They’ve got an inside track to some exclusive miracles that not everyone gets to see. Some kind of demons are going to get cast out today! There are going to be some special cures for diseases that he doesn’t cure in other towns!
So imagine their disappointment when they received nothing more than all the other people in Galilee. In fact, they got less—Jesus did no miracles at all in Nazareth.
When they start to express their disappointment—after all, there has to be some advantage to having a personal relationship with Jesus—he starts to tell them that God sometimes actually shows favor toward those who don’t know him, toward the unrighteous and the undeserving.
They became angry. They were so upset about his claim that they were no more deserving of God’s privilege than Gentiles and unbelievers and wicked people that they tried to throw him off a cliff. They felt they deserved more. They deserved better. Because they knew Jesus.
How does that sit with us? Most of us are here because we know Jesus. We confess our faith in him. We trust him for forgiveness. We give up a Sunday morning to come to him. We know him. And if what he says here is true, then all our faithfulness and belief don’t gain us anything. We, his devout followers, get no special privilege at all. How does that sit with you?
And yet this, apparently, is God’s word being fulfilled. This is what the prophets of old were trying to make clear. This is what Jesus came to fulfill, his purpose, his mission. That no one gets special privileges.
No, that’s not exactly true. The nature of God means that everyone gets special privileges. Everyone will be filled with love. God’s dream is that everyone will be fed, cared for, accepted, valued. Everyone. We all get the special tour of forgiveness and wholeness. This is God’s good news for the world. We’re all privileged, we’re all included, we’re all insiders. And we, Christ’s church, we get to share that with the rest of the world. Everyone you meet this week gets God’s special privilege of love, grace, and mercy! We get to share that good news with them!