They Called Jesus Names Too: “Comforter” and “Rabble-Rouser”
A Sermon on Luke 4: 14-21
The sermon series we’ve been going through is called “They Called Jesus Names Too.” Jesus was certainly called loads of names throughout his life, both positive and negative. One of those names on this day in the scripture might have been “Hometown celebrity.” Jesus walks in and is given the ideal red-carpet experience.
Interestingly, Luke has placed this story of the Galilee visit immediately after the temptation, which gives me the humorous image of Jesus stumbling into town after 40 days in the desert. Jesus probably didn’t look his best, he may have been a little dehydrated, probably a bit thin, and definitely a little red in the face. And now he finds himself surrounded by crowds of people.
Most of you should be familiar with such a “homecoming.” In a small town, every generation of “Children” head off to their own careers, some stay in town, some go to exotic, far off locations. But one of the town’s beloved children gets a lot of attention because of the success they obtain, and eventually they return home. The boy down the street from you that went off to fancy military school, the girl from homeroom that got into Yale, the kid from high school that went to California and starred in some B movie. Or maybe that was you, walking around your small town like you owned the world. People, who if you grew up with them, make you roll your eyes with equal parts jealousy and annoyance.
I like to imagine that people in Nazareth were pretty proud of their boy Jesus, who grew up and got all famous. I imagine the shock of the people when a newcomer asks who is this Jesus everyone is talking about? You mean, you don’t know? I guess you wouldn’t! he grew up around here, Mary’s boy. His birth was a little sketchy, born out of town, (and whispers) out of wedlock! But he grew up and turned out alright. He got involved with that John the Baptist, you know how prestigious that it! But it gets better, John the Baptist said he wasn’t worthy to tie Jesus’ sandals. Cant you just imagine! And now he’s on his way here.
So when Jesus came home finally, it was just like today when a local town celebrity comes through the city limits. Older women swoon at how handsome he had become, Mom and Dad beaming with joy, brothers and sisters using him to brag to others. Those poor people lucky enough to have grown up alongside Jesus felt that familiar inadequacy standing next to their peer. How do you compete in school with the Son of God? How do you impress anyone with Jesus turning water into wine?
Even still the buzz around town was: Have you heard the news? Jesus is back!
Jesus does what he is expected to do: he is a rabbi, so he does a sort of teaching tour. Illuminating the scriptures to all the people, and boy does that make them proud. Here is Jesus preaching at his home church. I remember him when he was *this* little! He is so clever, all grown up! Now in all this excitement, Jesus clearly had the crowd glazed over, I very highly doubt they were listening to what he said, after all it is not recorded for us to read. What we do have is a description of what happened when he was given the honor of reading the scripture.
The attendant hands Jesus the scroll of Isaiah and Jesus quickly selects his passage:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
Because he has anointed me
To preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim
Freedom for the prisoners
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To release the oppressed,
To proclaim the year the Lord’s favor.
Jesus reads a passage of Isaiah that refers to the suffering servant. An individual prophesized to bring about God’s justice. The anointed one who would proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. This draws upon an Old Testament tradition known as the year of Jubilee. According to Old Testament law, the jubilee year was supposed to occur once every 50 years, the land was to be fallow, all slaves were to be freed, and all debts would be forgiven. That idea was incorporated in the imagination of the prophets as they envisioned God establishing his kingdom. Surely, if God were to reign it would be something like this Jubilee. The anointed one was able to restore such a state to Israel. Notice God’s understanding of justice: the blind see, the oppressed are free, prisoners are set free, and the poor hear the good news.
And those people thought: “Well good job JC!” A wonderful scripture to read! The suffering servant that Isaiah writes of. How we love those passages. I actually have that one on my refrigerator.
For us, the readers, we are privy to some information. We just read about his baptism, how the Holy Spirit descended upon him. But that’s information that these townspeople don’t know. So imagine the silence upon his completion of reading the text. Jesus calmly rolls up his scroll, everyone in the crowd stares at him because he hasn’t sat down yet. Does Jesus know the order of worship? Is he confused, did he forget how to read scripture in the synagogue? Then he says “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” The crowd really doesn’t like this claim. But their reaction is held off until next week; this week ends in a cliffhanger. There is a shocked silence at this point.
One thing I love about Jesus, is that he tells the truth and has little regard for social protocol. The social norm here is for Jesus to give a thank you speech. Thank you for buying my dad’s benches and tables, even when I wasn’t very good at woodworking. To say a few social niceties, and to move along. But Christ’s concern lies in proclaiming the gospel, the good news. And the good news is this: scripture has been made flesh. Those people that day witnessed the scripture being fulfilled in front of them.
Jesus takes a familiar scripture, one that has been read hundreds of times, and makes it his own. As the Messiah, the anointed one, the son of God, he claims this passage of Isaiah as his mission statement. This is Jesus’ inaugural address. It’s the first time we hear him speak in front of an audience, so it is a presentation of Jesus’ “platform” or goals. God’s Kingdom is about freedom, good news, recovery of sight, release to all the marginalized, forgotten, downtrodden. God’s Kingdom is about justice being restored, and Jesus stands before his home town and proclaims that the Kingdom is being established at that very moment. It has come, Let the flood gates of God’s rolling waters of justice be opened.
For all these reasons Jesus is called wonderful names. “Comforter,” “King of Kings,” “Prince of Peace.” And Jesus’ Kingship is one of release and freedom.
So why the shocked silence? Why does Jesus get rejected? Those people gathered there that day may have been “too close to the truth.” In our own lives how often do we listen to those closest to us? Those who are married, how often have you ignored the advice of your spouse until some friend or stranger says the same thing, and it began to sound like good advice. Moms in the room, have you not been speaking the truth for years and years? Yet, we only listen at the “I told you so” moment don’t we. I’m only just now beginning to listen to my mother. Hard truths, shocking truths are hard to hear. Hard to see.
Christian author Lillian Daniel when writing about this passage, alludes to the bumper stickers we put on our cars and the signs we put in our yards. Hometowns are full of people extremely proud of who we are. We support our kids with signs in the yards. My daughter is on the soccer team. My son is in the band. It’s the positive stuff we advertise. You don’t see signs saying “Back Talker,” “Regular at Detention,” “Video Game Expert.” Her point is that this is the moment where the “Jesus” signs in Galilee & Nazareth would have started to disappear. He may have been “unfriended” on Facebook.
Jesus revealed himself to be a “Rabble-Rouser.” He inspired offense. All throughout the gospel he is making people angry, saying offensive things, eating with the wrong people, doing the wrong things on the wrong day, and disregarding that precious social protocol. Jesus knew it was time to tell the truth. It is important that it is in the midst of the weekly worship that Jesus proclaims the gospel. Worship is the arena of truth-telling. Week in and week out, we gather in this space to proclaim to the world the truth. And we worship God and thank Jesus for sharing such a revolutionary truth. That the world is not truly the way it thinks it is. Truth is found and proclaimed when we step out and live into this mission of Jesus.
How do we hear the truth? It’s a good question when it seems our own human condition is stacked against us. It is easy to agree that some people make it through life having heard very little truth spoken to them, much less love. With the violence the world finds itself in, the shootings in this nation, the warfare, and persecution it is clear that for many, the simple message of Christ remains unheard. Yet, how do we listen? And if we can manage to listen, when do we begin to hear? Deep truths may cut us deep, we often run from it.
Schopenhauer writes about truth:
“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”
I have a feeling that the good news of Jesus went through these stages and still resides somewhere in the midst of all of them today. Some are bored by the message of compassion in the face of selfish ambition, while others have never heard the message of love.
Its a truth hard to hear then and one that is hard to hear now. We in the church don’t believe that scripture is just a comforting text full of moral niceties or a manual for living our lives. We don’t believe scripture is for motivational posters. We don’t believe in that. We believe that scripture was written to be actualized, and that it was made real in the person of Jesus. That’s something you don’t hear every day. If we look to the live of Jesus, we see a perfect life of discipleship. We, as his Holy Spirit charged brothers and sisters, are called at times to be Rabble-rousers.
We begin to hear this news when it seeps down into the very depths of who we are. The good news of Jesus transforms people, because God cannot leave anyone the same once they have met Jesus Christ. I see the truth in the world when the poor and downtrodden, the spiritually empty, lonely and forgotten people of the world are shown kindness however small. I see the truth of the world shine through when people around us realize they indeed are prisoners to the world, to sin, to themselves. That truth comes as true freedom found in the service of our Lord. I see truth when those blind to the evils and pains in this world, those callous and uncaring finally begin to see the need for love in this world. I see truth in the proclamation of Christ that the year of the Lord’s favor has begun, and there is rest and refuge for all of God’s children.
So Yes, people will continue to stare in disbelief at any of us as we devote our lives to such a cause. And Jesus calls us to be rabble-rousers, to stir up crowds in pursuit of God’s justice. This is the truth that Jesus began to speak from that day forward. Church, we are now the ones anointed in baptism, called to carry on Christ’s mission. The Spirit of the Lord is in this place, upon our heads. And this came from an inconvenient place, but it is a reminder to us that God still speaks truth to us today, and often it may be coming from a place we might not be able to hear very well.
Give us the ears to hear. And the eyes to see.
That your truth may be known in this world.
 Lillian Daniel, When “Spiritual But Not Religious” is Not Enough (Nashville: Jericho Books, 2013), 169-174.