Luke 4:14-21 – The 3rd Sunday after Epiphany – for Sunday, January 24, 2016
“He began to explain to them, ‘Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.’” (Luke 4:21)
Chatter and ringing phones from nearby sections of the busy second floor—the reception desk, waiting room, and adjoining exam areas—faded into background noise.
At a teaching hospital, my wife and I focused on the surgeon’s explanation. As still as soldiers standing at attention, several student interns and the supervising professor (a renowned medical expert) also crowded the exam room.
Only our doctor spoke. Only her words mattered.
While not an emergency, this was serious. We had time to ponder, but a decision needed to happen within a few months. That decision would trigger a cascade of activities including crucial CT scans to discern the extent of the damage. The surgeon elaborated on the key steps necessary before and after the operation. Wanting to be 100% sure about everything, I asked her to repeat several statements
So focused on her crucial information, I didn’t even hear any barking in the background.
Our doctor was a vet.
Owners of our then nine-month old Kynzi, we sought to comprehend our choices. Kynzi might have elbow dysplasia, a debilitating and inherited flaw in large breed dogs. Arthroscopic surgery on the damaged left elbow joint might give her a better shot at long-term quality of life. As usual, whether for dogs or humans, the medical “solution” held no guarantees.
When we left the appointment at the University of California Davis Veterinary Teaching Hospital, with our dogly dog bouncing and bounding (and ever so slightly limping) beside us, I knew precisely what we faced in our future.
Though every part of my being focused on the surgical vet’s descriptions, two months later, back at UC Davis, my wife and I disagreed about the sequence of events. I was confident that Kynzi would be “knocked out” for a CT scan, followed by the surgeon immediately reviewing the results with us. If necessary, Kynzi would head to the operating table while still “asleep.”
My wife said, “No. The surgery will happen tomorrow. The doctor told us they only did scheduled operations on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
“No, it’ll happen right away. That’s what the vet said.”
Sigh, my wife was right again!
But I’d listened so carefully, seeking to understand everything expected of our puppy and us!
Wrong was I!
How can that be? How could I get the “facts” mixed up?
We hear what we want to hear.
+ + +
Jesus, filled with the Spirit according to Luke, stood before his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. He read from Isaiah’s startling and challenging words.
His was a ministry on the verge.
His was a message God-drenched and divinely inspired.
Help the poor.
Release the prisoners.
Let the blind see.
Liberate the oppressed.
These are literal statements. These are metaphoric statements. These are the narrow, rocky pathways of a vibrant faith.
Transformational . . .
Except that we hear what we want to hear.
Let the poor pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. If I can make it in the world, so can everyone else.
Release the prisoners? Let’s leash them! Let’s build more prisons; those that do wrong should be punished.
Let the blind see? Sure, but not on my dime. Oh, well, maybe this is one to read figuratively. So of course, let those blind to Christianity have their “eyes” opened . . . as long as what they see and then do matches my faith, my way of believing.
Liberate the oppressed? Speaking of oppressed, that’s exactly how I feel. Don’t I deserve a break? A raise? Why have laws protecting people of color or age or sexual orientation or other religions? That’s not fair . . . to me! How come all the terrorist-wannabes, job-stealers, and baby-makers immigrate here? Keep ‘em out, build a wall.
Jesus bothers me. No . . . frightens me.
The Nazarene’s demands for discipleship today are too easy to understand, too easy to accomplish, and threaten the self-centered, safe parts of me that I cling to. Tomorrow I’ll try to act more fully human, more fully a neighbor, and more open to God’s call. Maybe.
You bet I nearly always—always—interpret Jesus based on my selective hearing.
And yet, thanks be to God, there’s another voice. Usually soft. Oft ignored. Persistent, even pesky. That voice seeks to lovingly, honestly transform me.
After telling my wife exactly what would happen to our puppy—when I was wrong—she didn’t belittle me. She didn’t flash a nasty I-told-you-so look. She simply walked alongside me (and the puppy), supportive and helping us focus on the real needs of right now. She is the best voice in my life.
I believe there’s another voice as Jesus boldly, brashly proclaims the good news: for those back then in the synagogue and for me, right now. The best voice in my faith is a whisper, a nonjudgmental nudge.
Oh how I need God’s Spirit alongside me, exposing my vanity, my vulnerability, and my fears.