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The Providence, Provision, and Protection of God – Br. James Koester

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Br. James Koester

Jeremiah 1: 4 – 10
Psalm 71: 1 – 6 1
Corinthians 13: 1 -1 3
Luke 4: 21 – 30

It all started out so well, Jesus, in the synagogue, in his hometown. No doubt, the benches were full that Sabbath morning, as would have been usual. Maybe people knew that Jesus, and some of his pals, had come home for a visit. They had perhaps heard that Jesus had seen, as perhaps they had, that crazed and crazy John the Baptist down the Jordan valley[1]. They might even have known that Jesus was just back from spending six weeks, alone, in the desert[2]. They might have heard that Jesus had taken up as a wandering teacher and preacher, and was developing quite a reputation[3]. They knew that something was going on out there, in the world beyond their little village on the top of a hill. But they may not have connected this kid, now the grown man sitting among them, with anything more than a wayward come home. As I said, it all started so well, and in fact, except for some mild curiosity, so routine.

But slowly things began to take a turn. It wasn’t that Jesus was asked to read the lesson from the prophets that day.[4]We do that, and no one gets excited! No, nothing unusual was happening. There was nothing to be excited about.

He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring 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 favour.’ 
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.[5]

What changed it all was what happened next.

Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’[6]

Suddenly, this hometown boy had become a self-declared messiah!

Now there is nothing wrong with self-declared messiahs. Sure, maybe they are a little odd. Sure, they are a little crazy. But, usually they are quite harmless, and after a while, they fizzle out, fade away, and disappear. At first through, they can be quite impressive, so all spoke well of [Jesus] and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’[7]

Had our story ended here, everyone would have go home. Not much would have changed. In a few days, Jesus might have moved on. And that would have been the end: the end of the story, perhaps even the end of Jesus. He might have been a one-day wonder, and you and I might still be in bed, or at some temple, burning incense before a statue of the emperor.

What changed it all, was the slight that Jesus seemed to cast upon his old friends and neighbours.

He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” ’ And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ [8]

His audience would have known their scriptures. They would have known the stories of Elijah[9]and Elisha.[10]They knew that God’s providence, provision, and protection extended to the widow of Zarephath in Sidon. They knew that God’s providence, provision, and protection extended to Naaman the Syrian. They knew that God’s providence, provision, and protection extended to Gentiles, just as it did to faithful Jews.

But they also knew more than that. They knew that there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. They knew that there were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ They knew that both Elijah and Elisha went beyond the bounds of Israel to save, and to heal. They knew that both Elijah and Elisha went out of their way to save and to heal people outside the Covenant which God and with God’s people, the descendants of Abraham. They knew that Elijah and Elisha went beyond the Covenant, denying God’s grace to the faithful, and instead bringing God’s providence, provision, and protection to a people outside the household of faith.

What was outrageous was not that God’s providence, provision, and protection was made available to those outside the Covenant. What was outrageous was that it be denied to those within it. That was outrageous. And that is what Jesus was about to do to them! [Jesus] said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” ’ And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town.[11] What good is a hometown messiah if he cannot provide God’s providence, provision, and protection to those who have known him since he was a boy!

The sin of the residents of Nazareth was not that they believed God would not, or could not work beyond the borders of their town, or even their nation, but that God would give them preference over others. Their sin, as I see it, was national exceptionalism.

How little things have changed!

From the beginning of time, to the end of the ages, national exceptionalism has prevented us from seeing our neighbours as our equals. We have assumed that because of our creed, our race, our gender, our orientation, our ethnicity, our citizenship, our politics that we are God’s preferred people. For millennia, empires have risen, and fallen, believing that they are exceptional, and that God, or the gods, have chosen them not only to the detriment of others, but sometimes to the exclusion of others. It’s not that God can’t, or won’t, or doesn’t act, amidst that sort of people over there, it’s that God must obviously prefer us first, and should someone suggest otherwise, the stones are at the ready, and the cliff is just outside of town.

When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 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.[12]

The providence, provision, and protection of God is ours, not because of what we are, but whose we are. It is so easy to fall into the sin of national exceptionalism and assume that God favours us, not because God’s nature is one of universal and overflowing love, but because of our creed, our race, our gender, our orientation, our ethnicity, our citizenship, our politics. The reality is that the providence, provision, and protection of God says something, not primarily about us, but of God. It reminds us that God is love[13]and that love is for all people. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.[14]

God’s gift of love to us in Jesus does not separate us from those who are different. It unites us, in one loving embrace. The people of Nazareth forgot that simple truth that morning long ago. We forget that, when we believe we are God’s favourite, to the detriment of all others.

The story of the synagogue at Nazareth is the story of God’s providence, provision, and protection. It belongs to us all. It belongs to us all, not because of who we are, but whose we are, and all of us, even those least like us, belong to God.


[1]Luke 3: 21 – 22

[2]Luke 4: 1 – 13

[3]Luke 4: 14 – 15

[4]Luke 4: 16 – 17

[5]Luke 4: 16 – 21

[6]Luke 4: 21

[7]Luke 4: 22

[8]Luke 4: 23 – 27

[9]1 Kings 17: 8 – 16

[10]2 Kings 5: 1 – 14

[11]Luke 4: 23 – 24

[12]Luke 4: 28 – 29

[13]1 John 4: 16

[14]John 3: 16

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