Lectionary This Week: January 31
In the verses leading up to Luke 4:21-30, Jesus opens the scroll in the synagogue, reads from the prophet Isaiah and proclaims the “acceptable year of the Lord.” To his listeners, this would have been synonymous with announcing a “Year of Jubilee” — a time when slaves and prisoners were freed, debts were forgiven and the mercies of God were poured out in tangible ways.
In an ironic twist (given the current political climate here in the U.S.), Pope Francis has named this year as a Jubilee Year of Mercy and called for a “Revolution of Tenderness.” But what does that really mean? And how does it relate to this week’s gospel reading from Luke 4?
The Passage: Luke 4:21-30 (NRSV)
Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
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?”
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.'”And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 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; 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.”
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. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
A Revolution of Tenderness
All seems well at the beginning of the passage. People “spoke well of Jesus” and were amazed at his teaching. But when Jesus adds a twist to the teaching by proclaiming that it has been “fulfilled in their hearing,” their opinion of him changes dramatically.
Jesus challenges their assumptions about what the “acceptable year of the Lord” looks like. He says that God’s mercy is available to people they didn’t think deserved it. He’s a hometown hero, but Jesus makes it clear that his work will extend well beyond the boundaries of friends and neighbors.
He starts by pointing out that although there were many widows in Israel, it was not an Israelite woman who received Elijah’s help. It was a Sidonian who received a miracle from God. A Sidonian! Jezebel was a Sidonian. They were outsiders associated with idol worship. Not the kind of insider Israelite that was “deserving” of God’s blessing.
Then Jesus reminds them that there were many Israelite lepers in Elisha’s time, but Namaan the Syrian was the only one who was healed. Again an outsider was the recipient of God’s healing grace and mercy. In the same way, Jesus makes clear that his ministry wasn’t reserved just for the Israelites. His healing grace and mercy is also available to those who are marginalized or perceived as undeserving.
In the current year of Jubilee, we can’t forget that Jesus’ grace and mercy isn’t exclusively reserved for the people we deem to be deserving. The point of a year of mercy, or “a revolution of tenderness,” is that we reach beyond our divisions — and that means we can’t view people who are different from us as undeserving of blessing.
When we start second guessing who should and shouldn’t receive God’s mercy, we become like the angry Galileans who wanted to throw Jesus over a cliff. Now more than ever, it’s time to listen to Jesus’ words and broaden our view of who is acceptable or deserving of God’s mercy. Let the “revolution of tenderness” be birthed in our hearts and in our world, this year and always.