Maintaining the Container

setfreeTo put this gospel reading into its context: Luke tells us that Jesus has just survived the temptations of the Devil in the wilderness. He goes out teaching and preaching with the zeal of a new curate sprung from the rigours of theological college and imposed upon a parish for good or ill. However, the people seem to take to Jesus’ teachings we are told! Until that is, he returns home. Harmless to let him read from the prophets and hear some of his teachings you would have thought? Perhaps not, though. What, I wonder, was so galling to them that if you read on in Luke, he describes them seeking to throw Jesus over the edge of a cliff! Jesus suggests that the prophet’s words are being fulfilled in their hearing. Why should this have bothered the people so much? Were they not looking forward to the coming kingdom of God and the fulfilment of the scriptures? Were they not eager to see the prophecies brought to life in their midst? Call me cynical, but probably not, As Franciscan Priest Richard Rohr has suggested in his book ‘Eager to Love’ and in many of his talks. And neither am I convinced that we mean to do this. However, every church is guilty to some extent, often through no fault of its own. In many ways we are not looking for the coming kingdom of God, neither are we eager to see the prophecies brought to life. Partly because we just don’t expect it. But also because we have been taught to trust and maintain the outer expressions of our religious experience, traditions, scripture, and church leaders even. We are very good at maintaining this ‘container’ we call church. Not so good at getting to the contents. The contents being what Jesus was proclaiming in the company of the people of Nazareth, the experience of God. And so no surprise that they were not ready to hear what he had to say: I wonder what it might sound like if we listened in to an argument between the people of the synagogue and Jesus? And how much of our own times we might see in that? The scripture from Isaiah, that Jesus proclaimed he was fulfilling, says: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. Sorry, I thought we were all the people of God, isn’t the spirit of God with all of us? That is what we say we believe, and here is this upstart, wet behind the ears telling us he has the spirit of God? I’ve been in this synagogue all my life praying the same prayers and faithfully reading the scriptures and now here he comes telling us he has the spirit of God. And now he says God has anointed him to bring good news to the poor? Are we not good news to the poor? We have a poor box, and we send money to charities, we give alms, what more good news do the poor want? They are welcome to join us if they want to, assuming they are ready to follow our ways… He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives. Captives, why should they be released, surely there are reasons why they are captive. Those in prison perhaps, are they not there for our safety, our laws should decide who is in captivity and who is not! Recovery of sight to the blind? Well, miracles, oh, we’ve all heard the stories, but really in this day, do we actually expect people to see again after being blind? Yes we pray for such things, but are we ready to see it happen? Let the oppressed go free. The oppressed? Don’t get me started about being the oppressed! Under the Roman rulers, what about us, when do we get to go free? As if there is a special class of people who are worse off than everyone else? Everyone has it just as bad these days! Proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. Please, not in the company of slaves and hired workers. The idea of Sabbath rest? Well, it is only supposed to be a nominal idea is it not? Certainly not taken literally any more? And so the argument might go on. And so also do we maintain the container, and occasionally someone like Francis or Benedict, or Jean Vanier, or Roger Shutz, or George McLeod or another great soul gets to the contents, sees and captures the vision for a moment and they are called mavericks or heretics or saints and they go off and do something wonderful until the group which follows them begins to maintain the container and it all begins again. Jesus was talking about renewal. Spiritual and social revival. It was too much for those at Nazareth in the synagogue and often it is too much for us and we continue on as we were until we meet again. Well next time it happens again, but this time it is an old man called Simeon and an old prophetess called Anna who proclaim that Jesus was the Christ.

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