2/3/13, The Call

                                                                                                 Jer. 1:4-5, 17-19,  I Cor. 12:31 -13:13 , Luke  4:21-30

            Although I was not with you at this time last week, I was definitely thinking of you.  In Zuhuatanejo-Ixtapa, Mexico, where we spent 7 days, the time difference is 2 hours.  So while we were watching the last rays of the sunset over the Pacific Ocean at 7 pm, you were just gathering for Mass.  I thought of you with fondness and gratitude and prayed for you as I knew Marcia would be telling you stories of how her long and varied family history affects her feeling of her own place and purpose in the tapestry of time. 

In Mexico, we were privileged to stay in a beautiful resort area that had exquisite views of a pristine beach and blue, blue ocean that seemed to flow seamlessly from the blue, blue sky above it. Meals were available anytime and anything one desired seemed to be offered. We could leave the room with bed unmade and towels wet; when we returned everything was back in order, detailed with flower petals arranged in imaginative designs on the bathroom counter.   If one wants a picture of how heaven might be, perhaps this would be a start.

Yet, we became quickly aware that this perfectly presented paradise experience was not reality for the people who are the everyday citizens of Ixtapa-Zuhuatanejo.  As we walked the streets of the town and talked to the locals and engaged in some guided tours, we learned that government regulation deliberately separated the idyllic places reserved for us from the areas of residence and shopping in which true citizens live.  Those who served us by day returned by night to homes on unpaved streets and meals of simple food and families who had less opportunity for education than our children.  I’m sure we were prevented from seeing these distinctions so that we could continue without guilty conscience an experience that appealed to our sense of comfort and delight.  We could without guilt spend the money that supports this tourist economy, the profits of which mostly line the pockets of those who already have money, those who build the resorts and run them as tax write-offs.

What can one say when one recognizes this situation for what it is?  At this point in time, I occupy the place of being one of the people who has resources to partake of the beauty and luxury of such a vacation setting.  The folks who served me, at this point in time occupy the place of having far less in the way of resources and having to work much harder to provide for themselves and those they love.  If it is “God” who assigns each of us a time and place in history’s flow, how are we to think about living with integrity in the time and place in which we find ourselves?

This question kept coming back to me as I reflected on the lectionary scriptures for today.  The Old and New Testament scriptures resonate with the theme of response to God’s call for each person to be a prophetic presence in the time and place in which we live.  To be a prophetic presence means to speak and live out God’s message of truth in whatever setting God places us.

 

When God called Jeremiah to speak to the nation of Israel, Jeremiah protested, saying “I do not know how to speak; I am too young!”   Perhaps Jeremiah was not so much commenting on his age as his feeling of inadequacy or his fear of facing the people.  Whatever his excuse,  God brushed it aside saying, “Have no fear because I am with you and I will place my words in your mouth.” 

Today’s  Gospel reading is best understood in the context of what has gone before it.  Remember a few weeks back when we read about Jesus’ baptism.  It was at that time that Jesus recognized the call of God on his life. According to Luke, immediately afterward he spent 40 days in the desert overcoming temptation.  Last week’s Gospel picked up on that time, saying that Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit and commenced his teaching. In the synagogue at Nazareth, he read the familiar passage from Isaiah: “The spirit of Our God is upon me; because the Most High has anointed me to bring Good News to those who are poor. God has sent me to proclaim liberty to those held captive, recovery of sight to those who are blind, and release to those in prison - to proclaim the year of Our God's favor."

Jesus must have been an appealing public speaker. The home town folks were impressed. Luke says that they spoke favorably of him, being rather amazed that a son of Mary and Joseph had such articulate ability. They didn’t seem to be annoyed at Jesus’ implication that he was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.  

But after Jesus sat down, he went on to provoke this crowd of hometown folks. He said that they would expect him to do miraculous things for their benefit, but ultimately they would reject him just as prophets of old were rejected.  His point is that God commissioned him not to serve those who already “have” (the Jews) but rather to heal and feed outsiders, just as Elijah and Elisha ministered to pagan outsiders in the past. God’s intention for saving the oppressed is all-inclusive, not just for those who consider themselves the chosen people.

The anger that rose was apparently a response to this announcement of all-inclusiveness.  People were just hoping Jesus’ miracles would make life better for them. The hometown folk wanted nothing to do with a prophetic presence that called them to their own need for change in relationship to God and in relationship with outsiders.

I wonder where we as Church are being called to prophetic lifestyle today.  Like Jesus’ hometown folk, have we Christians been happy to just rest assured that God has chosen us in baptism and therefore we will be blessed? Are we okay with assuming that we have responsibility to serve only those who are like us, who believe as we do?  Or are we also willing to hear that like Jesus, with our baptismal call comes a prophetic call to proclaim liberty to the captives, sight to the blind and freedom to prisoners? 

Perhaps in this 21st century time, in this American society, it is time to consider deeply what it would look like to take up Jesus’ prophetic example of inclusiveness.  There’s no cut and dried, one-size-fits-all answer for that. For each of us that call will be different depending on the spiritual gifts that each of us in the Body of Christ has been given as well as the material resources we have at our disposal.  God call comes to each person in our time as it did to Jesus in his time, as it did to Jeremiah in his time.  To our resistances, God says, “Fear not!  I will provide what you need to meet the challenge. Look, I am putting my words in your mouth.  I am with you to deliver you.  It is Yahweh who speaks.”

By Sandi DeMaster