Evergreen Presby is continuing to work our way through Barbara Brown Taylor's book Holy Envy. This last week, we wrestled with the idea of whether or not we "own" God. In other words, can we claim an exclusive understanding of God? Could the Church also be blessed by "strangers" outside of our faith?
One of the textual stories she leans on is Jesus preaching from Isaiah in his home synagogue within Nazareth. He has been baptized and just finished his 40 days of temptation in the wilderness. On the way home, he has been preaching and performing miracles along the way, already making a name for himself. By the time he reaches Nazareth, word about him has spread, and his hometown is full of pride at the prophetic leader he has become.
That Sabbath in the synagogue, he reads about the anointed prophet in Isaiah and tells the crowd that his presence fulfills Isaiah's prophecy ~ God's jubilee is here. Something then shifts in the room between Jesus making this declaration and an angry mob forming. It's a mob comprised of people who may have known him since childhood.
Jesus mentions two familiar stories from the prophets: the provision for the widow of Sidon and the healing of Namaan, the Syrian soldier; two individuals who received God's blessing outside of his covenant people and instead of his people. Taylor asserts that Jesus' point is that Israel doesn't "own" God, and the reflection highlights a privilege and prejudice that the crowd can't process. Instead of being able to examine themselves, this impulsive mob forms intent on killing Jesus.
Asking if we as the Church "own" God is a worthy conversation in and of itself. But, I also think it applies to other current issues. Where do we see ourselves in the story when it comes to matters of "cancel culture" or "white fragility"? Are we able to internalize critique or are we prone to become the angry mob? What is a helpful theological and redemptive response to these matters of social justice?
By way of application, may we be able to see our reflection clearly and respond appropriately, mindful of God's grace.
Rev. Dr. Jennifer Bales
Communications Director &
Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church