I’m no longer a Christian in the formal sense of the word. But I love the scene in Luke when Jesus returns home to Nazareth and in the Shabbat service reads from Isaiah:
- The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,
- For he has anointed me.
- He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor,
- To proclaim liberty to captives,
- And to the blind new sight,
- To set the downtrodden free,
- to proclaim the Lord’s year of favor.
Luke says that he “won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips” (Luke 4:22). And then it all blows up.
“They said, ‘This is Joseph’s son, surely?’” (How many of us have been condemned without a trial because of our families?)
“But he replied, ‘No doubt you will quote me the saying, “Physician, heal yourself,” and tell me, “We have heard all that happened at Capernaum, do the same here in your own countryside.” And he went on, “I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.’” (Luke 14, 23-24).
I love how Jesus ignores his towns peoples’ astonishment and their assessment that his words are “gracious.” No ingratiating for him, when they marvel at him in what he obviously takes as rejection, he erupts immediately in a blistering condemnation of his townsfolk.
Well, we don’t know. But we can guess. His condemnation is couched obliquely: Israeli widows were suffering during a famine, but the prophet Elijah was not sent to them, but to an Arab widow. Likewise, the prophet Elisha was not sent to cure Israeli lepers, but Syrians (Luke 4:23-24). “You Nazarenes,” he might have shouted, “don’t deserve my teaching, nor the Torah that I read to you this morning.” Is he saying that the natives don’t get how important the foreigners are?
He might have been shouting at us.
How do we treat Syrian “lepers”—or Hispanic immigrants? We return them to the desert.
How do we accept asylum seekers or displaced persons at our border? We reject them, sending them back to the horrors they hoped to escape. Or (some say this is us being compassionate), we cage their children.
Do we try to cure the sick? If they are immigrants without full documentation, we have until now deferred their deportation, a small moment of compassion. But no longer. Boil down the confusion around the medical deferred action program, and what do you see? Abandonment, not compassion. To the sick children and adults with life-ending illnesses, we offer thirty-three days to leave the county—for what?
To let a cowardly president with no soul, a man who plays golf and feigns strength while enormous hurricanes attack our neighbors and our coasts, boast of his compassion, while families with dying children try to encompass the enormity of the devastation his government has wreaked upon them.
A strongman-bully leads us.
Spirit help us.