Continued Conversation: Scripture Calls Me To Stand With Muslims
Based on my earlier post, "Why This Christian Minister Stands With The Muslim Community" (published following the Anti-Muslim event in Garland, Texas on Sunday, May 3rd and the subsequent shooting) as well as the comments the post received, I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their responses so far.
In our church we believe it is healthy to have a diversity of opinion. In fact, the opinions expressed here made for a great conversation this morning over breakfast with my teenage children. Anything that gets my children to talk over breakfast I'm grateful for!
My interpretation of Luke 4:16-30 was called into question in a previous comment, so I thought I would go into it a little deeper and share how this scripture informed the blog I penned. First, the scripture reads like this:
16 When he (Jesus) came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 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,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
20 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. 21 Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ 22 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?’ 23 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."’
24 And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. 25 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; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’
28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 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. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way. (NRSV)
The scripture starts with the hometown boy Jesus arriving to read the scripture for the day. It ends up with the hometown crowd kicking him out of church, kicking him out of town, and trying to throw him off of a cliff. How did the story change so drastically?
Well first, you have to know that the economic system of Galilee in Nazareth was a disaster at that time – it was corrupt, full of kickbacks and land scams, people crippled with debt, farmers losing their ancestral land, families sold into indentured servitude, confiscatory taxes.
The whole sorry system was designed to line the pockets of the Romans and impoverish everyone else. Into this pit of depression and oppression, Jesus – the hometown boy – first reads the hopeful verses from the Old Testament book of Isaiah 61:1-3:
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.
That was good news for the hometown crowd! Exactly what everyone in beleaguered Nazareth wanted to hear: "Good news to the poor" – that's us. "Release to the captives" of the corrupt patronage system – that's us. Freedom for the oppressed – that's us. And finally, Jesus announces "the year of the Lord’s favor."
This "year of the Lord’s favor" was no mere nice metaphor. "The year of the Lord’s favor" referred to an old Jewish tradition called the "Jubilee Year" (see Leviticus 25:10).
This ancient tradition said, believe it or not, that every 50 years all debts were forgiven, all indentured servants were freed, and all foreclosed land returned to its original owners. It’s not clear whether this 50-year fiscal emancipation was always carried out, but anyone taking the Bible literally today might have some work to do in this area.
At any rate, even the hint of it in Nazareth was enough to win Jesus instant praise. "All spoke well of him," the Bible says, "and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth." They said glowingly "is not this Joseph's son?"
They were proud! They were hopeful! They liked what they heard! Now here comes the sermon…
Jesus tells them exactly for whom this great news is preached. And that’s what got him almost pushed over the cliff.
Jesus briefly reminds the amazed audience of two stories from the Old Testament. The first is the story of the widow of Zarephath; the second is the story of a Syrian army general with leprosy named Naaman.
To us, these may be obscure tales, but everyone in that synagogue knew them. Everyone knew that these two people, who the ancient Jewish prophets had helped out of their predicaments.
The story of “Naaman the Syrian” is found in 2 Kings, chapter 5. Naaman was the Syrian army commander. At the time, Syria was Israel’s most-dreaded enemy. Naaman was a powerful man of war, but he had leprosy. To an Israelite, the only thing worse than a Syrian would have been a Syrian with leprosy!
The story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath is found in 1 Kings, chapter 17, in the region of Sidon, where God sent Elijah to a woman who was a widow. Though there were many widows in Israel who were in dire need of aid. God gave an unending supply of food to this widow of Zarephath. God sent Elijah to help someone that the Jewish people would have despised and looked down upon. Not only was this person a woman, but she was a Gentile woman.
Everyone knew that in both of these stories, God’s love was offered to foreigners. To enemies. To heathens. God’s blessing rested upon that woman, that gentile, that leper, that enemy general.
Jesus even points out that there were lots of nice Jewish widows Elijah might have helped, and plenty of deserving Jewish lepers Elijah might have healed, but instead God's love and grace went to the wrong people from the wrong country of the wrong religion.
In telling these stories, Jesus announces that the work he is about to undertake is not going to be simply for the good folks of Nazareth, not just for “us” and “our kind.”
It’s the most natural thing in the world to see God in terms of “me.”
It’s the most natural thing in the world to understand God in terms of “my needs, my pain, my wants.” We want God focused on us and our desires. We want faith that addresses us.
The good news is that God does care about you and me, but the other half of this news is that it’s not just you and me and our kind. God also loves the wrong people from the wrong country of the wrong religion. He comes to their aid and defense no matter the culture or beliefs.
That is my understanding of this story and one of the many scriptures that tells me to support the Muslim community in this time. It's not about political correctness or going soft on terror. It's about Jesus. What he did and is still doing.