The highlights of my life of faith have been times when God comforted and blessed me. Recently, when my wife and I were visiting friends, our 1-year-old snuck away and climbed up a spiral staircase that I’d thought was blocked off. We’ve never lived in a home with stairs, so I have no idea how he learned to navigate them. After the initial panic of trying to find our toddler, the shock that he could have fallen down the stairs and grievously injured himself settled like a rock in the pit of my stomach. As my wife and I reflected on the incident later, we both felt as if God had protected our little guy—in the words of this week’s psalm, had delivered him, rescued him and been a rock of refuge.
We love when God cares for and blesses us. Who wouldn’t? But when Jesus returned from the wilderness to his family, friends and neighbors in Nazareth, he deliberately raised the issue that sometimes God blesses other people and not us.
In Luke 4:23, Jesus responds to the crowd speaking well of him by telling them that they would be jealous of the miracles that he had performed elsewhere. Jesus goes on to remind them of times in Scripture when God had blessed people from Sidon and from Assyria rather than the Israelites. This reminder that God isn’t limited to blessing one particular in-group, but frequently acts across community lines, seemed calculated to upset the people among whom Jesus grew up. If so, it worked. Some of his listeners were so furious that they attempted to lynch him.
The people of Nazareth were angry because Jesus had reminded them that God is not impressed by the ways in which we organize ourselves and draw boundaries and borders. God told Jeremiah that he would be a prophet “to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5) and had been appointed “over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (1:10). Hundreds of years before the advent of Jesus, God framed the salvific mission as deliberately crossing ethnic and political borders.
Jesus only reminded his neighbors in Nazareth that God’s beloved community was always intended to be expansive and inclusive. It was no slight to the Israelites that God also loved Assyrians and Sidonians. It is no slight to U.S. citizens that God also loves Guatemalans, Syrians and Somalis.
We can respond to the truth that God loves the whole world as some citizens of Nazareth did, by trying to kill the messenger. Or we can take to heart the words of Jesus, that the Spirit of the Lord anoints us to proclaim good news to those enduring poverty, prison, blindness or oppression, whoever they may be.
The takeaway from this week’s lectionary comes from 1 Corinthians 13, the passage read at so many weddings: “Love [and let us not forget that God is love] is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way” (13: 4-5). If we want to make Jesus our lord and obey his commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves, a good place to start would be suppressing our envy when God showers blessings on others (Matthew 5:45).
If, in pride and selfishness, we try to limit God’s blessings to our own community, we are at odds with God’s mission in the world. So, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7).