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Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Saint Margaret’s Anglican Church Budapest, Hungary Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30 Today this Scripture has been fulfilled... You may remember that in last Sunday’s account from the Gospel of Luke we found our Lord visiting the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. Today’s account continues that narrative, picking up where we left off; Jesus in other words is still there this morning in the synagogue at Nazareth. And as if to emphasise the few words he speaks during his visit, the Church has us today hear them again. "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” our Lord proclaims to his townspeople, and to us. And that is pretty much it. As I mentioned last Sunday, it is arguably the shortest sermon there has ever been. And perhaps the best. The Scripture of which our Lord is here speaking, by the way, not given to us again this morning, is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah and proclaims good news to the poor, release of the captive, sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed, and a year of God’s favour; all blessings in short supply in the ancient world as they alas still are in our world today. No one is excluded in our Lord’s proclamation of Scripture’s fulfillment. God’s favour is there for everyone to enjoy. Yet the good people of Nazareth are not ready to receive their native son’s message of hope and redemption. Indeed, hearing Jesus’ proclamation, they at once try to cut him down to size. “Is this not Joseph’s son?” they ask dismissively, as if his human heritage explains or justifies anything. But Jesus understands his kinsfolk and their suspicion. He knows that they are looking to him not for God’s favour, but for favours period. “Do here also in your hometown,” they demand of him without so much as a pretty please, “the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” His townsfolk look to him in other words for gain and profit, almost as if his mission were a kind of sideshow to be managed. Jesus of course will have none of it, commenting that “no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown.”

His references to the Widow at Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian, by the way, may not resonate with us today if we are not intimately familiar with the beautiful stories of the Elijah and Elisha cycles of the Hebrew Scriptures, but they would have been readily understood in the synagogue of Nazareth. Suffice it here to say, both the Widow and the Syrian were foreigners and Gentiles famously favoured by God, even though they were obviously not Jews or Israelites. And that is the problem. Perhaps in part because their town lies so close to Gentile territory, the allusions to others not like themselves do not sit well with the people of Nazareth. The effrontery, they must have thought, in Jesus’ intimation that God might somehow be as well pleased with a Syrian army officer of all people and a Gentile widow as with them. And it is apparently for this reason that they became enraged to the point of driving Jesus, their kin, from town and attempting to kill him. Our Lord of course barely escapes with his life, mysteriously passing “through the midst of them.” Ethnic feelings run deep, it seems, whether in first century Galilee or in our world today. Rebuffed at Nazareth, our Lord will then hit the road, traversing ancient Palestine and preaching a Gospel of repentance and forgiveness to anyone who will listen. Repentance and a change of heart are still at the core of our Lord’s proclamation and Gospel message. His mission is not to grant favours to a few but to proclaim the Lord’s goodwill and grace to any and all, but particularly to those in genuine human need. Following Jesus and accepting his words always demands changes in accustomed ways of thinking about the world and its people. This lesson has probably seldom been as clear and focused as it is today, as frightened peoples flee strife, poverty, and disease in their homelands across the globe and seek acceptance among peoples very different from themselves. What happened at Nazareth plays out today across Europe, North America, and many other parts of the world. Cultural and ethnic struggles are nothing new. People still today resist change no matter how sorely needed change may be. New ideas and new people threaten tradition and long-standing custom. Newcomers and strangers, immigrants and people not like us, may end up disrupting decades or even centuries of routine in a particularly close-knit and enmeshed society or community, particularly at times of crisis and pandemic such as these. Back then as today, Jesus’ proclamation of Scripture’s fulfillment demands of us transformation and a new Spirit that embraces the refugee and the exile not only as charity cases but as cherished members of the family of God. Home is always after all an elusive concept. The old folk expression, “Home is where the heart is,” perhaps comes closest to expressing a Gospel outlook for us today, for it recognizes that our true home is not a house or a town or a dot on the map, but a dwelling and abode found in our innermost being and yet paradoxically amid the tumult of modern life, a place to be shared as much as protected. No matter our

connections to our place of origin or current physical surroundings, no matter our skin colour or accent, it is only the geography of the human heart that matters. And because we are all guests upon this earth, we must learn in turn to welcome others as we ourselves would wish to be welcomed. Amen. The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs

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