Today, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States.
I wonder what he’ll say in his inaugural address. (I’ll know soon enough!)
I also wonder what might happen if Jesus were elected President and gave the inaugural address.
If what happened in Luke 4:14-30 is any indication, Jesus’ inaugural address might not go so well.
Jesus read from a familiar passage in Isaiah 61:1-2 that announced good news to the poor, freedom for prisoners, sight for the blind, and the end of oppression.
He also proclaimed that “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Full of hope.
Music to the ears of his audience.
It’s a shame that Jesus didn’t stop while he was ahead.
Wouldn’t it be easier for Jesus if he just spoke what the people wanted to hear? Wouldn’t it be better to give an entertaining and hopeful speech, and then leave town a hero after making everyone feel good about themselves?
That’s the way to make a name for oneself. That’s the way to draw in the crowds. That’s the way to be popular and win praise from the public.
But alas, Jesus was not that kind of speaker or leader.
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.”
One thing for sure, Jesus was not looking to be liked in his hometown. Jesus was not angling for acceptance from the crowds. Jesus was not peddling for praise from the masses.
So Jesus went full-steam ahead with his address.
He reminded his listeners of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. Jesus recalled two well-known stories from the history of Israel that today we might not recall as well as Jesus’ initial audience did.
Jesus reminded his listeners of the prophet Elijah. During a long-ago drought, there were many poor widows in Israel, yet God did not send Elijah to help any of them. Instead, God sent Elijah to one poor widow in a foreign land of Zarephath.
Then Jesus pointed out that during the time of Elisha, there were many in Israel who suffered from leprosy, yet God did not use Elisha to heal any of them. Elisha helped only Naaman, a hated Syrian commander who only heard about Elisha from a Jewish girl whom he had captured and enslaved!
When the people in the synagogue heard this, they became furious and outraged.
When they heard Jesus read Isaiah’s promises of freedom and release, they expected themselves as the first recipients of those blessings.
But Jesus told the stories of Elijah and Elisha to turn those expectations upside down. Jesus was proclaiming God’s preferential option for the “other,” those people who weren’t like themselves.
No wonder the crowd was outraged. No wonder they wanted to throw Jesus off a cliff.
It is as if Jesus purposefully set the crowd up and then shattered their cherished assumptions.
The crowd believed that they were God’s chosen people.
Because of that, they should be receiving God’s preferential treatment in the year of the Lord’s favor. They should be the recipients of good news. They should be the ones who would be freed.
But Jesus went out of his way to make sure that no one would misinterpret his inaugural speech.
He made sure the crowd heard his message: In God’s new administration, God’s favor will be shown to foreigners, outsiders, and even worse, their very own enemies.
We can shake our heads and say to ourselves, “Oh those Jews, don’t they know that God is also for the Gentiles?”
Before we judge them, let’s try to empathize with them.
Let’s imagine what Jesus might say to us if He were to give an inaugural address today.
Jesus might say: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. I’m here to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. I’m here to proclaim good news and freedom to liberals and fundamentalists, to the ACLU and the NRA, to undocumented immigrants and the alt-right.”
Wouldn’t you feel angry and outraged if Jesus said those things?
I’m feeling angry just saying these ideas.
I want to think that Jesus wouldn’t say those things.
But for the sake of argument, stay with me for a moment.
When Jesus challenged his listeners that day, the admiring crowd quickly became a protesting rabble.
They wanted to put Jesus in their box of what they believed to be the acceptable limits of God’s love. They wanted to press him into a corner of their political correctness, and if they failed to do that, then they wanted to push him off the cliff of their theological certainties.
In response, Jesus didn’t defend himself or fight back.
He simply walked right through that angry lynch mob like a ghost. No one was able to put a hand on him.
How many times has the Church tried to pin Jesus down to our own beliefs and practices only to find out that Jesus Christ cannot be contained?
We all do it—fundamentalists, conservatives, moderates, liberals, radicals—we try to box God up in ways that fit our biases and agendas.
Then we try to hold Jesus down long enough for him to say, “I’m Jesus Christ, and I approve this message.”
We want to be certain that we are the “in-crowd,” that we are right and righteous, that we deserve God’s love and favor.
But somehow, Jesus always gets away from us, refusing to be pinned down.
Jesus cannot be contained. He cannot not be boxed in. He cannot be pressed into a corner or pushed off a cliff.
For God so loved the world.
That was the reason why He was sent.
He walked through that crowd to engage the world with the good news of God’s love.
I certainly believe that God is love.
But what if God’s love is not only directed at me and all my brokenness, foolishness, wrong-headed thinking and immorality?
What if God’s love is also showered upon those whom I judge to be immoral, unjust and even evil?
How can I work for justice as I understand it without demonizing those who see justice very differently than the way I see it?
Those would the questions that I might be asking myself if I were in the crowd that day in Capernaum.
Those are the questions that I will be asking myself today.
What questions might you ask yourself?