There are times in the gospels when it seems like Jesus is his own worst enemy. Here he returns to his hometown, where he gets a warm reception – initially. The gospel writer reports that “all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth” (v.22). Then, suddenly, he seems to turn on the crowd, blasting them with words they find completely offensive, and the next thing we know, we’re reading that “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!” (v.28-29). How does he go from ‘warm reception’ to ‘angry mob’ in the span of a few minutes? And why?
In the Gospel record, we read of three presentations of Jesus at the Temple. Today, the first of the presentations, marks forty days following Jesus’ birth. Two things were required of Mary and Joseph according to the Law of Moses: Jesus’ parents were required to present Jesus in the temple, dedicating him to God as their firstborn son.[i] Also, there was Mary’s need for “purification.” We read in the Book of Leviticus that a new mother was to be ceremonially purified by a priest forty days after childbirth.[ii] A second presentation was when Jesus was age 12, when he greatly impressed the temple authorities with his precocious knowledge.[iii] And a third, when, as an adult, he was presented with the goings on of Temple – what was going on, outside and inside the temple.
If you are anything like me, and I have been around long enough to know that none of you are like me; but I have also been around long enough to know that you are all like me. You all have your own interior cycles of feasts and fasts. Sometimes this interior cycle is connected to the calendar. Sometimes it is even connected to the liturgical cycle of the church. But sometimes it is connected to your gut. You find yourself thinking or feeling or pondering something and you don’t know why or where it has come from and then, days or weeks later you understand. Right, you think. That’s where it is coming from.
Today’s gospel lesson is a rather odd parable that Jesus tells his disciples. For the most part the manager in this story is embezzling his boss’s money and he gets found out. And so his employer fires him and the man then worries about what people will think of him and where he will find a job in the future with this on his record. So far the actions of the employer and the subsequent anxiety of the former manager are no surprise to us. What happens next is probably even LESS surprising: the man, before the news of his unemployment is made known attempts a manipulative cover-up which, if all goes according to his plan, will cast him in a favorable light to those who owe his former employer money, and perhaps secure him a new job. Again….no surprise, it’s as if we could see this story on the front page of the Boston Globe.
While [Jesus] was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table. The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner. Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you.
One of the many highlights of my life in the last dozen years or so has been my ability to travel to Jerusalem on a number of occasions. If you have never been, I can’t encourage you enough to seize whatever opportunity arises and go. Your life will be immensely enriched, your heart broken and broken open, and your faith challenged and changed. If you have been, you will know what I say is true.
Before I came to this country, I was the rector of the parish of St. Mary’s Welwyn in Hertfordshire, just north of London. It is a very ancient parish, part of the building had been paid for by King Edward the Confessor – and on one of the walls there is a panel listing all the rectors of the parish with their names and dates. They go back for a thousand years. It was always a strange feeling to read the names – Saxon names, Norman French names – and then right at the end, my name!
I won’t ask for a show of hands this morning, but I’m wondering how many of us know a person or a family who is living below the poverty line. The U.S. Census Bureau defines that as a single person who makes less than $11,491 per year, or a family of four that earns less than $23,018 annually. In 2010, the Census Bureau tells us, over 15% of the people in the United States were below the poverty line (15.3%). The percentage for children was even higher: 21.6% of children living in the United States in 2010 were living below the poverty line – that’s one in every five children in one of the wealthiest nations on earth. If you know a person or persons who live with this kind of poverty, I’d like you to picture them and keep them in mind for the next few minutes.
You might have noticed that the gospel story read this morning contains two healing miracles, not one. What makes them particularly interesting is that they are interwoven – in fact, one story interrupts the other.
We find Jesus surrounded by “a large crowd” just after his return from a healing mission that had taken him across the Sea of Galilee. A man approaches him – not just any man, but a leader of the synagogue, a person of considerable social status and importance. He is desperate with worry and grief and, abandoning all dignity, he falls to the ground at Jesus’ feet and “begs him repeatedly,” the gospel writer tells us, to come and lay his hands on his sick daughter, who is at the point of death. There is a mixture of desperation and hope in his eyes. He is convinced that Jesus has the authority to make her well, if only he will come, and quickly. So Jesus went with him.
There is a word, or at least the implication of a word that pops up frequently during these days of Easter. Jesus implies it when he tells Mary Magdalene in the Garden on that first Easter Day to “… go to my brothers and say to them ….”1 And Mary certainly acts on it when she proclaims to the disciples ‘“I have seen the Lord” and [then] she told them that he had said these things to her.’2 Jesus himself uses it when he says to the assembled disciples “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”3