Sunday, January 31, 2016

God: Bigger Than Expected

Our gospel today is a direct continuation of last week's gospel. So think back to last week: Jesus went to the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth, proclaimed a scripture passage that prophesied about himself, and then declared that, "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing. " That's exactly where this gospel picks up today, with repeating that line. And today we get to see how this line played out.

Now, according to the other gospels, Jesus had already been traveling throughout the Galilee area where Nazareth is for some time before he came back to Nazareth. He had already been preaching and performing miracles, particularly in Capernaum, so word of him had reached Nazareth long before he got there. And the people are divided on how they feel about him. And the way this story sounds to me, it doesn't sound like some people like him and some don't, it sounds like the same people both like him and don't like him. The story says that "all spoke highly of him," and they also asked, "Isn't this the son of Joseph?", which basically means that he's nothing special. They're human, and so they don't always make sense. Just like you and I, they can say yes and no at the same time.

So Jesus reads their hearts and says out loud what they're all thinking. They're thinking, "If you really can do these awesome things over in Capernaum, then surely your own people deserve the same thing." And Jesus says no. That's not the kind and welcoming Jesus we know, so what's going on here?

With what the people were saying, "Isn't the son of Joseph?", they were acting as if they knew him and as if, in knowing him, they could contain him. And it's this sentiment that Jesus says no to, this idea that God can be comprehended or limited.

Jesus demonstrates that the power of God is not predictable, that it can't be limited or controlled, by these two examples he mentions of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. These two stories are examples of times when God used a prophet of Israel to minister to people outside of Israel. And if you were outside of Israel, then you were outside of the covenant and outside of God's love, so these were difficult stories for the Israelites to reconcile with, when God showed love and mercy to those outside of the covenant. They were difficult stories for Israel to reconcile with, because they wanted to put the love of God into a box that they could understand. "God's love exists inside this box but not outside it." In a similar way, the folks in Nazareth wanted to claim some sort of understanding or control over Jesus when they said, "Isn't this the son of Joseph?"

But look at what happens when they realize that Jesus can't be controlled or limited, that he doesn't simply exist to do his bidding. At that point, they tried to kill him. They recognized this power, and they only saw two option. With this awesome power, which is really just God's love put into action, they wanted to either control and understand it, or they wanted to eliminate it. But to allow Jesus to be bigger than they could understand was something they just couldn't tolerate.

Now what this is, is a really dramatic example of something we all do pretty regularly, because the love of God us just as unpredictable and just as uncontrollable for as as it was for them. And we constantly try to fit God into a box, to try to understand God who is flawless love in terms of flawed human love. And that can lead us to decide, perhaps consciously, perhaps unconsciously, that God can't love that person, that person is outside of God's love, the same way that these folks that Elijah and Elisha were sent to were supposed to be outside of God's love.

Many of us make one of two errors. We think of God as this overly permissive guy who doesn't really care what you do, as long as you're happy and you don't judge, or we think of God as a strict authoritarian figure who is never actually pleased with our efforts. Neither one is actually God, because neither one is actually love. Love is somewhere in the middle. God's love makes demands, yet God's love is genuinely pleased by the efforts we make in this life.

God's love can't be contained or comprehended by our minds. As soon as we think we fully grasp or fully understand, we can be sure we've missed it entirely. So in order to not make the same mistakes as the townspeople in Nazareth, we have to be ready to trust a God who is way bigger and way cooler than we could possibly imagine. If we are only willing to accept a God we can understand, then we'll be amazed at his gracious words one minute and ready to hurl him down headlong the next. But if we accept God love which is both demanding and delightful at the same time, then that opens us up to that love working in our lives.

So ask God today what errors you've made in trying to understand his love and what new piece of his love he wants to show you today. Don't ask yourself, because you'll just come back and say, "none." Make an act of faith, an act of the will that says you're open to whatever new thing he wants to show you, and ask him what new piece of his love he wants to show you today. He won't disappoint.

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