Interventions: A Short-Circuit in Mission (Luke 4:14-30)

Short Circuit The Movie I was unable to post my talk from last Sunday here this week because I’ve been busy at YM but I did post it on the church’s blog and on twitter. If you’ve already seen it, I apologize for the duplication, but I wanted to have it here before I post the new one. I’m not sure if I’ll continue to post sermons in this way or not but since I don’t know what I’m doing here’s the link to audio version of the discussion. You can download the audio to your iPod or listen on the webpage.

And here’s the (very) rough written text.

This summer we’re talking about interventions in the Gospel of Luke. These are moments in the Gospels where something unexpected happens, where there is an encounter, a reversal, where everything-as-it-seems is turned upside down. “Interventions” signals the God’s work in the world turning the losers into the winners, and the work of the Kingdom lies outside our ability to control, predict or domesticate it. It is often that God’s plan for salvation even troubles those sure of their own place in God’s will.

This morning I will use the language of a short-circuit to help describe what took place in this early scene of Jesus’ ministry. It is Jesus’ first sermon, his inaugural address, his very first of many interventions, and he does it by way of a public performance in his hometown during worship.

How many of you remember Johnny 5 from the 1986 movie “Short Circuit.” Johnny 5 was a military robot, that after a great power surge was “short circuited” and became “alive.” [SHOW CLIP]

“A short circuit is an abnormal low-resistance connection between two nodes of an electrical circuit that are meant to be at different voltages. This results in an excessive electric current or overcurrent.”

Sometimes the short-circuit results in a malfunction, and from the perspective of at least those who created Johnny 5, his short circuit, is a malfunction. But what I like about this movie, the image it conjurers is that sometimes, a short-circuit provides a new thing, a new perspective. From the perspective of the animal-lover Stephanie Speck Johnny 5 is alive.

I liken Jesus’ first sermon to a “short-circuit,” his oral performance was meant to unhinge, create an overcurrent, the redirected the way these first century Galileans understood God’s salvific work in the world.

[SLIDE] Jesus short-circuits a standard reading of the Hebrew Bible in a way that offers a new perspective, a new reading, that ultimately leads to a new way of being the people of God. Some, as you can see from their response, saw his reading as a malfunction, but we see things differently. We see his reading, his short-circuit points out the movement of God in a way that creates quite the intervention.

But before we get to that here’s a little background.

Jesus’ First Sermon

By the time of Jesus ministry, it was normal for Jews to gather in the synagogues on Sabbath for reading and exposition of the Hebrew bible. As they became more settled under the power of the empire, more synagogues were built and became the central place of worship.

And from what we know here Jesus’ presence at Sabbath worship was something he regularly did!  Interestingly, some have pointed out that because all the other times in the Gospel of Luke we find Jesus in a synagogue teaching but aren’t give the content to his teaching we’re supposed to assume that this was his general message he gave as he traveled from meeting place to meeting place.

And these services were generally be far more like Quaker worship services of old than today’s event-oriented mega churches. The way the synagogues were built encouraged discussion and free exchange among those present, the normal practice was to allow anyone with something significant to say speak up.

If you’ll remember last week, we discussed John’s method of preaching, how it was open to dialogue, allowing others to respond and have a voice, as I put it, we see the same happening here and throughout Jesus’ ministry.

Interventions and Response

Interventions, led by the Holy Spirit, always provoke deep thought and challenge the very framework from which people live their lives. Because of these challenges, the people are given space to process, and respond. Sometimes we see, as was the case with John, they asked the probing question, “What then Shall We Produce? And Sometimes there is a contrast, and the people respond the way they do in our passage this morning, with hostility and rage.

[SLIDE] But in either case, every intervention demands a response. It demands a yes, or a no. There is no in-between with interventions.

And if Response is so important why did these folks want to throw Jesus from a cliff?

This isn’t what you would generally expect from your hometown family and friends on your first public sermon. [ILL: My First Sermon was Really Long!]

Isaiah and Now

Like any inaugural address Jesus stood up and carefully selected the source of what he felt would characterize his administration. He had no plans to clean Washington up, appeal to fears, stress a particular cozy language about who they were as a people, and he certainly didn’t draw on nationalistic tendencies. Instead, his idea was to replace Washington. That is, replace the power structures, both religious and political, with a new vision of God’s people that operated in a distinctly different way from the world.

So, he stands up and reads from Isaiah 61:1-2 (someone already very present in the Gospel of Luke):

“The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD’S favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.”

What did you notice different about this? vengeance? Apparently Jesus edited out the part of about vengeance from the bible he was reading from. Why is this?

When this passage was initially written, it was written from the perspective of Israel, it favored their side and suggested that God would judge all those who oppresses Israel, all those who held it captive. God would judge Israel’s enemies.

But with Jesus two things happen here in Luke 4.

a) He gets up and reads this, and edits the passage removing this clause so that it stresses release and favor, rather than damnation.

b) And then, after he sits down, he says, today this is made true in your midst. (There is no more waiting around for the Messianic Age – it is here now).

As one translator puts it, “You’ve just head Scripture make history. It just came true now in this place.” The stress is on the word NOW!

Today, in your presence, God’s year of Jubilee is upon all of us. Today, right now, we are to begin living not in expectation, or in waiting but in the reality, in the now-ness of the rule of God.

This Passage Classically Describes God’s Mission

This is Jesus’ “mission.” I know the word mission may excite some of you, and make others a little queasy. I’ve come to expect both responses as someone studying “missiology.”

But here for Jesus “mission” means this: living out of the reality of God’s Kingdom and proclaiming that this reality is for everyone, especially the people who have been marked as outsiders by the religious community.

We can domesticate the Gospel and make it safe by keeping it focused on Jesus’ death and resurrection, but from this passage we see that there is far more involved in the Good News, the religious, economic and political all get wrapped up in Jesus’ work.

There is no sphere of life that God is not interested in, all areas of life can and should be given over to God in worship. God demand our total allegiance, and a willingness to respond totally.

Mission for Jesus is now, it is not something that happens out there, it is not something we send special people out to do on our behalf, Mission is saying yes to God. It is carefully tending to the needs of those marked as outsiders. It is handing over every aspect of our lives to be a witness to the kingdom of God.

It is doing whatever we can to extend the reality of God’s kingdom with our own bodies where ever we are at.

Who are the Poor?

What I love so much about this is that Jesus stands up and says this is my mission that is the activity of God’s Spirit is “to bring good news to the poor.” And here he doesn’t just mean those down and out, those who are unemployed, and homeless, he also means those of low honorable status.

[Here’s where the Good News moves beyond the religious and into the political and economic]

When we think of poverty we often think of economics, but in antiquity status was measured differently. It came through sex, family heritage, inherited or genetic traits or defects, it came through performance based actions such as education and conformity to particular religious behaviors.

People could be kept out of the religious community for genetic faults, injury, being deaf, having mental retardation, etc. This is all to say that people had less religious and political rights depending on their status.

God’s understanding of poverty is far bigger, far more inclusive than our own, Jesus’ call to the poor is far more impossible than our own versions of this.

What I find truly liberating about Jesus’ ministry is that in Luke’s Gospel we see this all reversed. All these people who make the dishonorable statue Jesus invites to be a part of his movement.

The point we are drawing to, the climax of the intervention, the very tipping point that leads to our short-circuit is that Jesus shows that there are unexpected recipients of God’s grace and those who are typically excluded are now on the inside (Joel Green).

And as we can see Jesus doesn’t just stop with the poor (that would be far to simple!):

He 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.”” (Luke 4:18-19 NRSV).

Jesus stresses release, as you will see in the chapters that lie ahead, release will include the forgiveness of sins, release from sickness, disease and other physical malformations, people will be released from social barriers that keep them out of the community of God, and they will be released spiritually from diabolic powers.

People will literally be given sight, blind people will be healed, but metaphorical sight will also be given. People will receive God’s revelation and experience salvation and be included into God’s family in ways unimagined, never envisioned before (Green Theology 78).

This is all wrapped up in Jubilee, the year of God’s favor.

[SLIDE] Jesus announces the final Jubilee, not in the sense that it is to never happen again, but that it is to become the reality through which the people of God operate. It is final, because it is now the reality, Jubilee is now the starting point for the people of God not something off in the distance.

As Shane Claiborne says, part of Jesus mission was to call to restore the “economic system of sharing, debt cancellation, and land redistribution” (90). God’s economy is a divine economy, a gift economy, where sharing and the canceling of debts are at the heart of everything and expected reciprocity and equal exchange are absent.

Jubilee is about giving to those who are in need, those who do not deserve it, those who wouldn’t even necessarily ask for it for themselves. We do it not because it will make us better people, or so that we can now expect their allegiance, but because it is how God gives.

But it is much bigger than that as well, it encompasses everyone, all people and all of creation.

God through Jesus personally inaugurates jubilee, and creates a community that will take it upon themselves to live out jubilee.

This is Jesus’ mission, all of it. What he says in his inaugural address, he means to actually do.

And he goes on to do all this stuff in very literal, as well as metaphorical ways.
[Take that presidents, dictators, religious leaders, and big-time CEOs!]

This is all well and good, and why would anyone in their right minds be upset about something like this?

A Short-Circuit in the Mission

It is in the response, the anger and rage, that we see where the short-circuit happens.

The problem arises not by what Jesus said, but by who he says the recipients of God’s favor will be.

a) First, they misunderstand this message is for. That’s why he says, the line about the proverb “Doctor, cure yourself” which was a saying that meant, “you are expected to do in your hometown whatever you do elsewhere.” Jesus’ hearers would have thought this good news was for them.

The problem was Jesus was telling them just the opposite.

b) Then he elaborates by turning to two very famous Hebrew prophets – Elijah and Elisha. In both these stories only people outside Isreal receive God’s favor, and in the story of Elisha, the man who is healed of his leprosy, Naaman the Syrian, is the commanding officer of the Israel’s enemy army!

Jesus is saying, this good news is not for you. You thought God was going to bring vengeance on your enemies, God is declaring favor on them in stead. God declares release. You thought jubilee was just for you, well know it’s for outsiders too.

The short-circuit happens this way.

Jesus gets up, reads a popular old Hebrew text, one that people loved to identify with, saw themselves in it, heard their dreams, and prayers resonated within that passage, so much so that it became a crutch to them, so much that it became the thing itself that kept them from actually helping those in need because they read it only for themselves.

Then he sits down he says this is for the nations.

In the same way that Johnny 5 is both a malfunction, and a new thing that exceeds its created purposes, even contradicts its created purpose, Jesus short-circuits the common reading of this text, creating a malfunction, even a (mis)reading of the text, as you can see from the perspective of those present, but for others, it creates an entirely new reality.

[SLIDE} Jesus’ short-circuit opens up a new reality where the the kingdom of God is understood to be working.

Jesus’ short-circuit was speaking into existence a new reality, a new way of viewing the world, a new way of relating to and understanding God.

He takes the OT wire, and touches it with the reality of God’s presence located within Jesus himself, the incarnation of God, and creates an explosive overcurrent, that radically displays a new way of being the people of God.

Let me try to make the problem as plan as day:

Israel’s God was rescuing the wrong people. They were praying for their own resuce, and he goes on to rescue others.

Jesus turns their expectations around like a mirror, he redirects their hopes, and their prayers for God’s final blessing on them. It was like Jesus said,

“your prayers for God’s help, his judgment on the nations, on your enemies have acted as an excuse for you to abuse and misuse those in your midst. Your religion has become your obstacle to living religiously. Because things aren’t going the way you hoped, you’re taking it out on those who are most vulnerable among you. So now I’m going to show you how to live Good News to those people God deeply loves.”

Let’s put it another way:

“You think this good news is just for you but it isn’t, God’s favor has turned towards everyone you wish to judge, everyone you think are excluded from the grace of God because they don’t follow your religious rules and fit your religious standards are in fact included, and those you think are included don’t get it. God’s goodness is for all the nations, it is for everyone, it’s no longer just for you.”

Closing

We are invited to think this morning about both practice and interpretation, what I called ecclesiology and hermeneutics our first week.

We are invited to investigate the questions:

If Jesus embodied his mission fully, what ways might the church continue in this mission? If these are the practices of Christ, should they be the practices of the church?

If Jesus found it fitting to short-circuit the expectations of his hearers, his religious community, to challenge their understanding in very radical ways, how might we as the church be short-circuited by this reading, and what are we to short-circuit in the world? How do we follow the message and method of Jesus put into practice here?

Activity: Write a short-circuit of your own for Luke 4 during open worship.

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.