When Jesus returns from his wilderness adventure, he is filled with the power of the Spirit. He begins teaching in the synagogues; stories about him begin to circulate. “He teaches with such authority.” They say. “He brings the sacred text to life.” “He brings the kingdom of God down to earth.”
Stories like these reached Nazareth, but they were not easily impressed. When Jesus returns home, he enters the synagogue, reads a passage from Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he
anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
God 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.”
In silence, Jesus rolls back the scroll. All eyes are fixed on him. He opens his mouth and says,
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled.”
Then Jesus sits down and begins to teach.
You can almost hear the murmuring of the crowd. On the one side, his lifelong friends saying things like, “Doesn’t he read wonderfully. I remember when he couldn’t pronounce his Rs. And just look at his hair. It could use a trimming, but isn’t it beautiful.”
On the other side, his detractors, saying, “Who does he think he is, a carpenter’s boy interpreting Isaiah for us?” “My son studied 3 years under Rabbi Gamelia and you don’t see him up there. It isn’t proper.” What does he get to teach to us?”
Jesus anticipates the response, saying to them,
“Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here in your hometown things we have heard you did at Capernaum.’
Jesus knows this crowd is not easily impressed. These familiar faces respond more to him than to his message. And not even him, but their narrow view of him as a child, a young boy, with so much to learn.
They say “familiarity breeds contempt.” One challenge of small town life is to allow our children to grow and become the unique creatures that they are, not to hold them hostage to our own images of who they are or what they will become. When we fail to do this, we overlook the Spirit of God which can do new things in amazing ways. We also fail to hear what they might teach us about the world, about ourselves. Some of our best leaders and prophets move away because nobody in their hometown was listening, nobody would accept them for who they had become.
We don’t know what Jesus was like as a child, as a teenage, but we can see that now at 30, he is filled with the Spirit of God. He had become a teacher who brought the kingdom of God down to earth. People who listened found great comfort and encouragement to live holy and joyful lives; those held captive were released, the blind received sight, the oppressed were set free. As Jesus taught, those who had been pushed down were lifted up. Poor people discovered that they were blessed with the riches of God’s love.
Jesus was a teacher with a prophetic message. It is important that we cultivate our capacity to hear prophetic voices in our midst. Within the established church, we’ve placed too great an emphasis on visible signs of authority. Prophets are often people with no social or political standing who speak the truth of God. Some people refuse to hear them because they have no formal degrees or impressive titles. Yet, they are not without knowledge and understanding. True prophets immerse themselves in the Word of God and regularly listen for the voice of God in the silence of prayer, in the music of worship, in the words of Scripture and reflections of the Word.
True prophets are able to speak God’s truth more clearly. Many of my African-American colleagues are tent-making ministers. They make their living doing things other than preaching. Some have expressed to me they wouldn’t have it any other way. One said, “How could I speak the truth if I depended on the people to put food on my table?”
True prophets are often ignored because they say things we don’t want to hear. Jesus spoke wonderful good news, but it was good news that required a change. Things could no longer be the way they had always been. Synagogue worship could no longer be for the chosen elite, the upper echelon. Worship of the God of Israel could no longer be the sole privilege of Jews. Jesus challenged his Jewish sisters and brothers to expand their view of God and humanity, to see all people as part of God’s wonderful creation to be included within the covenant of God.
In the same way prophets today call us to expand our view of God and each other. I was listening to a radio preacher the other day talking about Evangelism as fishing. “The trouble with most church folks, he said, is that we want to catch fish already cleaned.” At times, we refuse to reach out to the very people who could most benefit from the good news of Christ. Worship has become over the years a privilege for the social elite. One church in Pittsburgh still rents pew space. Christ shows us that worship should not be a privilege, but a right, that all may come to know their loving creator, in Jesus Christ.
Jesus was a teacher who taught people the good news of God’s salvation in the way they could best understand it. As Christians, we are called to be teachers of the faith. We have many excellent teachers in this congregation. When we were reviewing the decline over the last 10 years, it came as no surprise to me that our Sunday School has remained strong; it has even grown. We have many devoted Sunday School teachers who take their calling seriously, who use a variety of methods to teach the love of God to children of all ages. We are blessed with 2 strong Adult Sunday School classes, and 1 on the way. We also have mid-week Bible study and prayer groups which help Christians connect in small groups and further apply the Word to their daily struggles.
As Christians, we are called to be teachers of the faith. I would challenge you to take this calling seriously. As s Sunday School teacher, a Small Group leader, a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle. Get to know the unique lives of your sisters and brothers in Christ and help them discover the Way of Christ. Reach out to someone you know without a church home, someone in need, someone who could use some good news and bring them to worship, to Sunday School. Share a newsletter or worship tape with them. Expand their thinking about God in Jesus Christ and let them expand yours.
You don’t have to be an expert to teach. Sometimes your expertise even gets in the way. All you need is passion and a willingness to learn. Faith is not a test; it is a journey. As Christians, we are called to be fellow travelers, companions on the journey of faith. We are called to get in shape and to help others get in shape for the coming of God.