Tag Archives: Nazareth

THE CHRISTIAN MANIFESTO, Part 5: The Poor

Read Luke 4:14-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Later, Levi invited Jesus and His disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.)” (Mark 2:15 NLT)

315proclamationRecently, a fellow colleague and friend of mine got into a conversation about the scripture passage I was preaching on at the church that I serve. The passage is Luke 4:14-21 and is on Jesus’ first recorded visit to the synagogue in Nazareth following his baptism and wilderness experience. In that passage, Jesus is handed the scroll of Isaiah and he opens it up to the following passage: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, for He has anointed Me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.” Inspired by the conversation, I have decided to devote a series of devotions on this particular passage, which has become known as “The Christian Manifesto”.

The scroll of Isaiah was unfurled, opened to the sixty-first chapter, and handed to the familiar face of hometown carpenter boy turned prophet and healer. Jesus of Nazareth looked at the scroll, found the place from which he was to read, and began to utter the words slowly and clearly. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” he began. All eyes were fixed on him intently, waiting to hear these words which had been read countless times before. Prior to this day, plenty of people had read the famous words from the profoundly influential prophet Isaiah. They knew these words and had heard the discussions surrounded its meaning. Everyone knew that these were the words that foretold the coming of the day of the Lord, the day when God would level the playing field, right the wrongs, and liberate all of Israel from her oppressors. Still, they had NEVER heard these words from the mouth of a commoner, the mouth of a carpenter, the mouth of someone who had been gone a while and come back so remarkably different than the person they they knew.

“…for God has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.” The words quickly reverberated off of the walls of the small stone synagogue and into the ears of those gathered around this carpenter. They knew these words and had prayed to be able to live to see the day of their fulfillment. After all, each person in that synagogue were peasants. They were poor, hard-working people who had barely anything to show for all of their hard work. They not only were taxed on any kind of income, but they also had to yield a tenth of their grain crops, a fifth of their wine, fruit and oil, and they had to pay off the crooked publicans that collected their taxes. Yes, these people could hardly wait for the day when there was finally Good News for the poor.

It, no doubt, came as a surprise to the people of Nazareth, as well as the people in ancient Palestine (aka Israel), that this Jesus wasn’t necessarily referring to them as the poor. Nor did the “good news” he preached seem all that good to them! There Jesus was saying that he was anointed by God (which is code-speak for Messiah) to bring the Good News to the poor, and yet he was traveling with a tax collector and other sinners! The tax collectors were particularly despised because on top of the regular taxation the Romans forced them to pay, they would raise the amount owed and keep the rest for themselves, becoming rich off of their own.

How could Jesus preach about bringing Good News to the poor and hang around tax collectors, who were themselves rich in their corruption? How was that possibly Good News for the poor villagers of Nazareth? Whether they realized it at the time or not, Jesus was about to shatter their understanding of God’s justice as well as their understanding of what it means to be poor. In fact, he’s about to do the same for us as well. Jesus does not, ever, define who the poor are. Nor does he define the “least of these.” Instead, he simply served the poor and the least of these whoever they were. Good news for the impoverished is the cessation of being shunned and away out of their poverty. Yet it is not just the impoverished who are poor. The rich, though not impoverished, are poor in other ways. God does not call us to only fill the need of some, but to fill the needs of all who are in need. While the rich might be first in the bank, they might be the “least of these” in terms of spiritual depth and purpose. The question for us today is this, who are “the poor” in your communities, and what is the GOOD NEWS for them?

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“No one has ever become poor by giving.” – Anne Frank
PRAYER
Lord, help me to hear the Good News that I need in my life, as well as be the conduit of the Good News in the lives of others. Amen.

THE CHRISTIAN MANIFESTO, Part 3: Reports

Read Luke 4:14-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” (Matthew 7:20 NLT)

buddy_christ1Recently, a fellow colleague and friend of mine got into a conversation about the scripture passage I was preaching on at the church that I serve. The passage is Luke 4:14-21 and is on Jesus’ first recorded visit to the synagogue in Nazareth following his baptism and wilderness experience. In that passage, Jesus is handed the scroll of Isaiah and he opens it up to the following passage: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, for He has anointed Me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.” Inspired by the conversation, I have decided to devote a series of devotions on this particular passage, which has become known as “The Christian Manifesto”.

As was mentioned in the previous two devotions, following his baptism and wilderness experiences, Jesus returned to Galilee. This was a place that was familiar to him and, no doubt, a place that he could return and feel confident enough to test the waters, so-to-speak. Yet, Jesus was not naive and he knew that returning home would present other challenges for him. Sure, he knew the area and he knew the people. He knew what their hopes were, he knew what their fears were. He knew what they enjoyed most and he also knew what they struggled with in their day to day lives. Jesus had an intimate and personal knowledge of those people. Yet, they knew him as well and they knew his family.

That’s not to say that everyone in Galilee, which is only 21 km (13 mi) long and 13 km (8.1 mi) wide (a total of 53 km or 33 mi in circumference), knew who Jesus was. But they would have known he was one of their own by his very village attached to his name (Jesus of Nazareth), let alone by his mannerisms and the way he talked. So, when Jesus shows up on the scene preaching words of wisdom and performing divine miracles, the buzz about this miracle worker and teacher rises up quickly and spreads throughout the region. This makes Jesus’ return to his own village a precarious one.

The people of Nazareth did intimately know this son of a carpenter and so, when they hear the reports of all he is doing in their region, they get curious, prideful, and excited for the homecoming of this “son of Nazareth.” When Jesus arrives in their town, they are all ready to hear him read from and expound upon the Scriptures. They’re not really listening to the words of the prophet Isaiah, as much as they are listening to their own excitement at the propsect that one of their own, a hometown boy (if you will), might actually be the promised Messiah come to deliver the people of Israel from foreign occupation. They wanted to claim him as their own and yet, because of their vested interest in him and the reports circulating about him, they were cutting themselves off from what God WAS ACTUALLY DOING. Hence why, in verse 24, Jesus states that “a prophet is never accepted in his own hometown”.

Jesus hadn’t come to make them proud, or give them something to continue reporting on; rather, he had returned home to the people he loved and knew so intimately in order that he might show them how they needed to change (not a popular message, I know!), in order that they might become agents of the Kingdom of God rather than slaves to the Kingdom of this world. This is a vitally important message for us as well. After all, we who go by Christ’s name consider him to be one of ours, right? We consider ourselves to be in with him and we report on how “awesome he is”! Christian athletes praise Christ for being their Lord and Savior and for helping them win games. Christian artists praise Christ for their artistic talents. Christian politicians praise God for their political gains and, truth be told, to garner Christian support. Yet, where is Christ in all of this? Is Christ merely a namesake that gets us what we want? Is Christ merely a name to drum ourselves up with? Or is Christ the one who comes to us and demands that we change in order to be true representatives of the Kingdom of God? Regardless of where you are on this, whether you accept this Jesus or not, God cannot be deceived and certainly knows a tree by the fruit it bears.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Even children make themselves known by their acts, by whether what they do is pure and right.” (Proverbs 20:11 NRSV).
PRAYER
Lord, help me to see past the hype and the reports of who you are in order that I may see who you truly are and who you are calling me to be. Amen.

Ready, Get Set, Engage!

Read Matthew 7:7-8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.” (Proverbs 8:17)

KillingJesusThis year seems to be the year of the historical Jesus. In September, Bill O’Reilly’s book, “Killing Jesus,” was released. The book isn’t about Jesus the Christ, as found in the Gospel accounts; however, it is about Jesus of Nazareth, the historical person who lived and was brutally killed two thousand years ago. Whether one likes O’Reilly or not, the book is undoubtedly sparking an interest in the historical life and times of this peasant Jewish prophet from Galilee.

Another book, released around the same time, is Reza Aslan’s book, “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.” This book is a much more scholarly book than O’Reilly’s, though it is certainly accessible enough for the average reader. In his book, Reza also attempts to paint a picture of who the historical Jesus of Nazareth was, showing him to be a person who was filled with Zeal for his God and his people. This Jesus was another person, in a long line of people, who claimed to be the messiah that would deliver God’s people from the oppressive Roman empire and the corrupt Temple and religious authorities of the day.

As an academic, I love reading and engaging in such quests to find the historical Jesus; however, I would imagine that many might find such quests to be rather frustrating as well. After all, why would anyone question the Gospel accounts of Jesus? Do we need to look any further than the Bible to find evidence of who Jesus was as a person? Won’t books like this lead people further from who the Bible says Jesus is?

Many Christians tend to view such books as a threat against their faith, rather than seeing them as opportunities to actively engage people in dialogue about our faith. What if Christians actually read the books, with open minds and willing spirits, that are intriguing the people around us? What if we took the time to engage people in ways that are relevant and interesting to them? What if Christians moved from fear to faith and put their “faith” in God rather that placing their faith in their “understanding” of God?

The fact of the matter is that books such as the ones mentioned above are good news for us, as they show that this person from Galilee, this prophet from Nazareth, this miracle worker from Judea is still someone who is drawing people to him this very day. People are longing to find out who the real Jesus is? People are longing to investigate the life of the one we claim to follow!

Rather than resisting the interests of people searching for truth, we should be displaying the truth of Jesus in our lives. We should be embracing people who are seeking to find who the real Jesus is, all the while leading people to see the real, resurrected Jesus lived out in and through us. If we are truly Christian, if we truly have faith in Christ, than that faith will lead us to be active participants in bringing hope, healing and wholeness into the world.

Today’s challenge is to join in on the conversation of who Jesus Christ is. Be open to learning new things and be open to the people who desire to go on such a quest of learning. Recognize the opportunity to help guide people from searching to finding. This can only be done if you are open enough to understand what they are searching for and if you are willing to join them in the quest. We are called to walk with others in their journey in the same way that God has walked with us in ours. Ready, get set, engage!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Jesus is as narrow as himself and as wide as the universe.” – Rob Bell

PRAYER

Lord, help me to be open and engaging rather than closed and disengaged. Use me to reflect the reality of your presence. Amen.

 

The Gift of a Thistle

Read Luke 7:11-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

Thistle_20050725_001My favorite film of all times is “Braveheart,” which is a film about William Wallace who was a Scottish freedom fighter who lived in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. In the beginning of the film, William Wallace’s father and brother go off to fight the British, who had just killed a group of Scots who were trying to negotiate with them. William, who was just a young lad, was not allowed to come with them, even though he desperately wanted to go. After days alone at home by himself, William’s father and brother were brought home…dead. The little boy was devastated as he stared at the limp, cold, bloodied bodies of the only family he ever knew.

At the funeral, William watched as the earth was being heaped onto his father’s and brother’s bodies simultaneously with the reverent sound of Latin coming from the priest officiating over the committal. Locked in that moment, the little boy tried to come to terms with the fact that this was the last time he’d ever see his father and brother again. What would life be like for him now? Who would take care of him? How would he survive in a world that devoured even strong men like his father and brother?

Lost in his grief, the boy stared on, not even noticing that someone even smaller and younger than himself, approached him. A young girl, half William’s age, reached out to him. Noticing the movement, the ten year old boy noticed the five year old girl standing before him. She looked at him with compassion and a depth of understanding that only God could provide. There in her extended hand was a thistle, which is a prickly, yet stunningly beautiful, flower that was also a national symbol of Scotland, perhaps foreshadowing the fate that awaited this young boy who would one day rise up to be the guardian of his people. At the sight of the thistle, William began to cry and an eternal bond beyond words formed between him and the little girl who cared to give him the gift of a thistle.

We often look at generosity as being the act of giving money; however, as the girl in the story of Braveheart showed, generosity goes far deeper than what one is being generous with. Generosity is not an act, but a state of being. It is not about giving some of what you have, but about being someone who gives whatever it takes to fill others’ needs. Some people need money, some people need food, some people need compassion, some people need forgiveness, some people need healing, some people need hope; however, everyone needs presence. We all need to know that we are loved and cared about. We all need to know that we are worth something, and that we are not alone.

Jesus modeled generosity, and what it means to be generous, for us. It wasn’t that he was rich, or had great possessions, or had status, or had anything other kind of materialistic commodity to give. Jesus was a poor peasant preacher from Nazareth, and as Nathaniel pointed out in John 1:46, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Yet, Jesus was generous as he gave whatever it took to fill the needs of the people he came across. He gave them presence and the assurance that they were not alone, the assurance that God was truly with them. From that presence came hope, healing and wholeness.

Today’s challenge for us is to be a people of generosity. Let us rise up to the challenge to be present in the lives of those who are in need. Be a friend to someone who is outside your group. Be there for those who seem outcast and alone. Be someone who gives whatever it takes to fill the needs of others. God, through Christ, did no less for us and we, as Christians, have accepted that gladly. It’s time we lived up to that example and became a people of generosity too! Be generous and give as freely as you have received.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Too many have dispensed with generosity in order to practice charity.” – Albert Camus

PRAYER

Lord let me heart be overflowing with love so that my being becomes a fountain of generosity. Amen.