Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Year of the Lord's Favor

In teaching in the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus quoted Isaiah's prophecy of the year of the Lord's favor. But quickly the one who came to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord is himself unacceptable to his neighbors. Jesus' unsettling words about God's care for foreigners challenged the narrowness of his neighbors' thinking, challenged it, not from outside the tradition of Israel, but from within that tradition. God's care for all people - articulated in the calling of Abraham and Sarah to be a blessing to the nations - was, like the theologia crucis of Christian tradition, often a neglected aspect of Israel's tradition.

The anger of Jesus' neighbors was, oddly, an indication that tradition and theology were important to them. It mattered to them how one thought about and understood God and the nature of God's relationship with Israel. As an occupied people, ruled over by pagan Rome, it is no wonder that Jesus' neighbors adopted a circle the wagons understanding of being God's chosen people.

I see the reaction of Jesus' neighbors in sharp contrast to what has been - and still in some ways is - the American response to different ways of understanding the faith. I grew up in a time when it seemed that what mattered was that we believed and not what or in whom we believed.

While I have not been happy about the acrimony - and demonization - that has marked many of the debates within the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, the debates are about important matters. Theology does matter. Not all ways of talking about God are equally true. There are interpretations of Scripture and Tradition that are quite simply wrong. Sadly, some of them, like the prosperity Gospel or the teaching of the Left Behind series, are very popular, but that doesn't make them right. The struggle, as in Nazareth, between different theological positions is a critical task for the Church. The struggle will not, of course, result in perfect theology, in a perfect understanding of God. But that does not mean that it should or can be avoided. In that struggle we may, by God's grace, find greater clarity about who and whose we are, greater clarity about what God is doing in our time, and greater clarity about our sharing in the missio Dei.

The neighbors at Nazareth may not have come to a greater clarity about what it meant to be God's chosen people. But Luke's community, the community in which the story of Jesus' teaching at Nazareth was preserved, that community was granted a clarity about the wideness of God's love, the love incarnate in Jesus .

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