This Privileged Calling

Published 2:18 pm Thursday, January 27, 2022

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By Charles Qualls

I have such fond memories of my hometown church. In so many ways, they brought me up. They helped to raise me in the faith, obviously. Some people there were also my school teachers, so they educated me. Socially, they also formed me through their wonderful influence collectively.

Truth is, these days everything has changed though. If I went back there now, three quarters of the folks wouldn’t even know me. A lot of time has passed. We see things mostly the same, but denominationally I don’t quite align now with them. It’s home, but not entirely.

Jesus encountered a similar thing in his home synagogue. The difference is, he hadn’t really ever moved away. At least not in a literal sense. Our reading of Luke 4: 14-21 is complicated because of what comes next. You may remember that right after this, the hometown crowd got so mad at Jesus that they took him out of the synagogue and tried to kill him.

There is a gossipy part of me that wants to know a lot more. I want to understand why Jesus’ home crowd responded so viscerally and wanted to throw him off a cliff. But that’s not part of our assignment today. At our church, we are in a sermon series entitled “A Light To Shine On the Nations.” So, we kept our focus on what Jesus said was his assignment in this scripture.

Here is what he read in their midst that day. “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 favor.” It was actually Isaiah 61 he was reading from.

Jesus said he had come in order to fulfill these words. First thing I want to notice is that he went to the synagogue “…as was his custom.” I lament that folks don’t value coming to church anymore these days like Jesus did.

We talk about being Christlike. Every one of us would probably put our hand up if asked whether being Christlike was a primary goal of Christianity. You know it is. So Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath. But these days when the same Christians who will talk about becoming more Christlike are asked about attending church, suddenly doing things like Jesus isn’t so important.

Then, I want to notice what he read. Scripture like this is OK when it’s left in the Bible. It even sounds right when we are in the gospels and hear Jesus reading it. That is, until a little voice goes off inside you or me and utters those two little words that make this scripture not all right. You know what the two little words are?  “Yeah, but…”

Once we hear any scripture and follow it with “Yeah, but…” it’s a signal that we are about to take over and become our own little gods. Because that voice only speaks up if what we’ve just heard is inconvenient. Or, if it’s going to demand something steep from us.

If what Jesus says is going to cut against some of the enculturation that lies at the center of how we were brought up, we tend to rebel. If it’s going to make us unpopular with someone we care about, we tend to second guess him. That’s when we’ll say even to Jesus, in whom we profess to hang our entire salvation and eternity, ”Yeah, but…” Then, we get busy setting Jesus or the pastor straight.

Here’s the thing. To Jesus, what he was reading from the scroll that day was a description of his calling. It was what God had sent Jesus to do while among us. This was a preview of where God was actually headed, and still is headed today. Jesus was now the embodiment of those radical words of calling.

This is a privileged calling we share with Jesus. That is, if being Christlike is actually important to us. But so often, we leave the things Christ said safely tucked into the pages of scripture where they can’t get anything on us. Imagine if we were to ever take seriously coming to the synagogue like Jesus did. Imagine if actually bringing about the things he taught was important, rather than setting him aside when it comes time to shape how we actually believe humanity should be treated.