I would like you to take a trip in the imagination with me this morning to Nazareth during the time of Jesus’ ministry, in fact the beginning of his ministry when he preached his first sermon. We are in the home one evening of a Jewish man called Baruch. Now Baruch is the “Chazzan” (an assistant to the Rabbi) at the synagogue in Nazareth. And in this role, he had many duties. It was his job to take out the Torah from its special cupboard which was called the “Aron haKodesh” and unroll the sacred scrolls in preparation for reading, he also had to keep the synagogue clean; he had to announce the coming of the Sabbath with three blasts of the silver trumpet from the synagogue roof; and he was also the teacher in the local village school. Baruch was a well respected man in the community and it was on his recommendation to the Rabbi that Yeshua came and read and taught in their Synagogue on this particular day. But tonight, Baruch felt angry, worried and betrayed, at the same time he was wrestling with the words he had heard spoken by Yeshua and their implications, because they were words that challenged the way Baruch had always looked at the world.
Worship did not go well at the Synagogue today. He couldn’t remember a time when the service had been that chaotic. Baruch knew that the Rabbi was sure to speak to him about it tomorrow. The Rabbi had agreed with his assistant, Baruch, that it would be good to have Yeshua come and speak to them. He was after all a local boy who the people of Nazareth were particularly proud of, especially when they heard of all the good things he had accomplished in Capernaum with his teaching and with his healing. Well Baruch’s first clue that this synagogue service was going to be quite different from all the others, was when Yeshua came to up the front of the “bimah”, the table where the Torah scrolls were opened. Baruch had opened the scroll for Yeshua to the assigned reading from the prophets for that day, the synagogue always correctly followed the Lectionary. But instead of going to the reading that Baruch was pointing to, Yeshua rolled the parchment further to another section of Isaiah and he read….
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Yeshua then took the scroll and handed it back to Baruch. He would never forget that moment when Yeshua looked directly into his eyes. He felt that he was looking straight into the depths of his own soul. Yeshua, returned and took his seat in the Synagogue to teach them, as was the custom for visiting Rabbi’s. He began: “today this scripture has come true in your hearing”. The congregation was delighted at how well this son of Joseph had read that morning and was even more amazed when he said these particular words. But, the Rabbi and Baruch suddenly felt uneasy. Then Yeshua spoke — as if to provoke his audience, as if the synagogue was already rejecting him. He said, “I suppose you’re going to say “you need to fix yourself before you fix us.” What does he mean Baruch and the others thought? Then Jesus really pushed their buttons when he reminded them of how in Elijah’s day God had preferred the widow who was a non-believer over all the other widows in Israel, and how in Elisha’s time God had healed Naman of leprosy, Naman who was a Syrian and an enemy of Israel. This was too hard for the congregation to hear. After all, they as Jews were God’s privileged chosen people, and this reference to Naman the Syrian was not appreciated at all. It only reminded them that Nazareth already had a problem with the Syrians who had recently moved into their town.
Before Baruch could do anything, the angry congregation had grabbed hold of Jesus and dragged him out of the Synagogue. “Let’s throw this imposter from the top of the cliff at Kedumin, several of them cried.” Keeping some distance from the crowd. Baruch followed the procession. He was confused, he was angry at Yeshua for his words which had disrupted his beloved Synagogue, he was angry at the congregation for their uncivilized behavior, and he was angry at himself for even inviting Yeshua to speak to them in the first place. Baruch was glad when they reached the hill that Yeshua was able to escape safely, but as he turned back towards home, he prayed that this Yeshua would in future, stay away from Nazareth and his synagogue, and he hoped that this would be the last time that he would ever have to set eyes on Yeshua the Son of Joseph!
It’s remarkable how this story is a like a miniature Gospel story inside of the Gospel story, like one of those Russian dolls, each one is contained inside another. Instead of the City of Jerusalem we have the town of Nazareth, instead of the temple it is the synagogue, instead of the hill of Golgotha we have the hill of Kedumin. Even the words of Jesus “physician heal thyself” remind us of that scene of Jesus on the cross, “he said he could save others, but he is unable to save himself”. In both stories Jesus comes, he speaks the gospel, he is rejected, but ultimately he passes through and rises above those who have rejected him. I guess one lesson we can take from this story is, be careful about who you invite to preach at your church! Maybe if the Synagogue in Nazareth had a spiritual Interest and a Worship committee like Wesley does, who knows, Baruch might not have ended up in so much trouble, or at least he could have shared the blame around. Mind you if Baruch hadn’t met Jesus, then we would never have heard this story! (Speaking of Synagogues, a note of thanks to Rabbi David Ellis in Halifax for providing me last week with some of the details on Jewish worship in the time of Jesus and the duties of a Synagogue assistant.) But seriously, Baruch’s dilemma, is our dilemma. You see God through Jesus has spoken the truth and then God places that truth into our hands as the sacred word. Like Baruch and the Synagogue he was part of, we have a received truth, the Word of God, the Gospel, which when we live by it, our lives are better, more grounded in God, more peaceful. Nevertheless, inevitably because of sin, somewhere along the way we take God’s word and we put it back in the box, like the Aron haKodesh scroll box in the synagogue. And that box has an inside and an outside. We put our faith and our church in the same box with two sides, in and out, and of course we are always on the inside and there is always someone else who we see as being on the outside. When we put the narrative of God into a box, it becomes an “old” narrative, but when we take it out of the box and read it and understand it through the mind and the eyes of the living Jesus’ it becomes a new narrative.
I apologize in advance for this example because I’m sure we have heard enough of this particular individual. But a lot of what we are hearing now in politics and particularly American politics is an old narrative that’s trying to recapture a country that existed in the 1950’s and early sixties. It’s a narrative of “privilege”. It’s a narrative of “entitlement” and It’s a narrative of “fear”. And don’t ask me why, but for Mr Trump holds great appeal for many Christians in the US.
Speaking on Syrian refugees said “We cannot let them into this country, period,” “Our country has tremendous problems. We can’t have another problem.” Now I’m not attempting to take sides in a political debate but I refer to it because what we often find in politics and in life is a tendency to try and hang on to old narratives, that are grounded in privilege, fear or entitlement, like how great America was in the 50’s, or how society was so much better in Bermuda 30 years ago. Or how good things were bettering our own lives twenty or thirty years ago. And when it comes to it I think we have to decide are we reminiscing about the “old Narrative? Or are we following the “new narrative” the open vision that Jesus brings? The new narrative of the Gospel is not a stroll in the park, it’s not for the faint of heart. By following Jesus, at some point in our lives we will like him, run the risk of thrown off the top of some hill. But we also know that this story is grounded in God’s love for humanity. This story is the Way, the truth and the Life. As theologian Cerith Lee Nordling says “ Do you want to play? It will cost you your life, but the good news is, that you get your life back again!”
Let’s return to Nazareth: The next morning Baruch went back to the Synagogue, he needed to tidy up the benches that had been overturned in the scuffle, and he had to properly roll up the scroll and put it back in its proper place. He hadn’t slept well that night. He had tossed and turned as he tried in vain to somehow bring together his love for the ancient traditions of his people and this new narrative, this new way of looking at things which Jesus had spoken to them about. As he went to roll up the scroll his eyes fell again on the very words Yeshua had read the day before. He remembered that thrill in the depths of his heart when Jesus read… “He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed”. Baruch then remembered how Yeshua had looked at him when he handed him back the scroll, that love which he saw in Yeshua’s eyes reaching out to him. He suddenly realized that Yeshua was talking about him as well as he was about others. That he had become too comfortable in his faith, that he had become a captive of his own rigid traditions, that though each week, he took out the scrolls to be read to the people he had become blind to what they were truly saying. Suddenly, Baruch realized in the depths of his heart, though he could not really figure it out, that Yeshua was and is who Isaiah spoke about that God’s living spirit rested upon him and speaks through him. Baruch wept! He wept with tears of sorrow, and tears of joy! And then he decided, that this very day he would go to the poorer area of Nazareth, where the Syrians and the other immigrants had settled and he would offer them his assistance.
Theologian T.F Torrance writes about the importance of “repentance” which leads to openness both in religious faith and in the field of science, he writes “The refusal to be bound by the rigid framework of our previous attainments, the capacity to wonder and be open for the radically new, the courage to adapt ourselves to the frighteningly novel, are all involved in the forward leap of scientific research, but in the heart of it lies that readiness to revise the canons of our enquiry, renounce cherished ideas, change our mind, to be wide open to question, to Repent.”Each day individually and as a faith community we have to make a decision, are we following the old narrative? or are we following Jesus and living in his new narrative which calls for a faith which always has an open edge to it? A faith that is actually lived through the faith that Jesus had in his Abba, his Father and in the love that Jesus has for God, for others and for us If we live in the new narrative then we will live in and through the Word who is Jesus Christ the Word made flesh, the Word who dwells with us and among us today.
Bibliography and References
Bannoks, David George. 1994. “Epistemology and Authority in the Theology of T.F.Torrance.” Durham, UK: Durham University.
Barclay, William. 2001. The Gospel of Luke. Rev. and updated ed. The New Daily Study Bible. Louisville, Ky: Westminister John Knox Press.
Bartlett, David Lyon, and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. 2008. Feasting on the Word. Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. 1st ed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.
Ellis, David. 2015. Rabbi David Ellis — Atlantic Jewish Council — Phone conversation.