Monday, February 01, 2016

Love without Envy

Epiphany 4C, January 31, 2016
Luke 4:21-30
21Then [Jesus] began to say to [all in the synagogue in Nazareth,] “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’ ” 24And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
There’s an old story of a man who received the promise of three fulfilled prayers- anything he prayed for, it would be granted. But there was a catch: whatever he received, his neighbor would get double. The man decided that that was alright, so he went home and prayed for land- good land, with rich soil and no rocks. In the morning, he received word that he had unexpectedly inherited a big parcel of land, more than he could imagine. He was down at the pub, celebrating with his buddies when in walked his neighbor. Wouldn’t you know it, but the neighbor had also received an unexpected inheritance of twice the amount. All of a sudden, the news from the morning seemed to be minor, the amount of land paltry.
That spring, the man walked through his land, and without even thinking, he prayed for an abundant harvest. Not a bad prayer. And that year, the weather was the best, the rain, the sun shone, the pests were minimal. The harvest that year filled his granary. The man went into town to celebrate the harvest with his friends, and there he heard that his neighbor not only filled his granary, he had had to build a new one besides.
That winter, the man stewed and mulled and churned over the events. And he came up with a prayer. That spring, the man prayed that he would be struck blind in one eye.  
What is it about human nature that we get jealous, that we want to have more, that we want to do better than our neighbor or our sister or our brother. Why is it so important to us to be the best, to have the most, whether it’s in talent or grades or promotions or friends? Why is it so hard to rejoice in other people’s success, especially when we’re still doing fine?
When I was a sophomore in high school, a new girl transferred in to my high school. Everything I could do, she could do better. She got the lead in the school musical. She did better on tests, she got the solos in choir, she had more friends. I hated her- because I was jealous. In some way it felt like she was taking what was mine. But the solo, the lead role, the 98% on the test- those were never mine in the first place.
Justified or not, perhaps jealousy is the emotion driving the murderous impulses of the crowd against Jesus. They turn on him because he’s favoring other people. In verse 22, they speak well of him, proud of the hometown boy, amazed at his gracious words. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” But when he refuses to do the amazing things for Nazareth that he did in Capernaum, well, then, they’re ready to throw him off a cliff. I guess Jesus really wasn’t welcome in his hometown.
But what is it that sets them off? He’s just declared freedom for captives, recovery of sight for the blind, good news to the poor. Why aren’t these people happy?
It’s that he declares these things and says, “It’s not going to start here. It’s starting somewhere else, with the people you hate, the people you dislike, the people you resent. In fact, you’re going to have to get in line- behind them. There’s no special treatment for you, just because you helped raise me.” It must have been a slap in the face. Where was the reward, where was the loyalty, the payback? Where was the gratitude?
But that’s not how God works, is it? God picks unlikely people, despised people, the lowly and the marginalized. Those folks are God’s favored people. God love everyone, but when God sees someone who has been pushed to the side or pushed out, that’s where God hangs out.
That’s why God chose Mary to be the mother of the Messiah. That’s why God picked some uneducated fishermen to be the first disciples. It’s why God healed Naaman the Syrian and made Ruth the Moabite one of the ancestors of Jesus. It’s why Rahab the prostitute got in that lineage, too. God works on the margins, boosting the folks who need it first.
That high school competitor of mine- She was smart and beautiful and seemingly self-confident, but she was also multi-racial, and her dad was in prison. She faced racism and discrimination and so many roadblocks I never had to overcome. If anyone needed to get the boost of being the best, of being chosen first, it was her. Looking back, I’m thankful for a God who is wiser and more generous than I am.
May God give us all exactly what we need. May God teach us to love without envy. And may God’s love and mercy bring healing and wholeness to all people, starting with the people who need it most. Amen.

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